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One Week in Baghdad

I generally cringe at the thought of another session of the trial, but in this case, it was a welcome relief from the emptiness of the daily routine.

Iraqis have lost all hopes for any real justice in this god-awful country. People here have long been accustomed to taking justice into their own hands -- or forgetting it altogether. That is one thing that hasn't changed much.

"They should just lynch him and spare us this farce," one patient remarked. His comment sparked a heated debate among other patients. I've heard all the arguments so I try not to listen.

Iraqis are divided over everything. They can't even agree over a dictator who ruled them with a fist of steel for 30 years. Saddam oppressed all who opposed him even-handedly, regardless of their sectarian backgrounds; but Iraqis have not been so even-handed in their opinions about his oppression.

WEDNESDAY

My neighbors suggested we go out for lunch today. They are a young couple living just across the street, with two kids, a girl and a boy, ages 11 and 5. I often spend time with them in the evening during the curfew, or around tea time. Normally, we just chat about daily news, or share gossip on the comings and goings in our neighborhood over trinkets and cigarettes, with the children fooling around in the background.

I learned from my neighbor's wife that a stray bullet injured her mother's cousin during the firefight in our street three nights ago. It went right through her window and shattered her collarbone. It was tragic, considering that her son was killed just a few months ago by kidnappers after the old widow failed to collect his ransom of $50,000.

We discussed the issue of Abu Ghassan who lives next door to them. He decided to take his family and relocate to Syria after threats from criminals. Abu Ghassan is a very well-to-do businessman and a car battery dealer. His lavish lifestyle brought him unwanted attention in our area, and it took him one failed kidnapping attempt to decide to sell everything and leave.

It was an excruciating scene, watching neighbors of a lifetime carry their suitcases early at dawn to board a SUV to Syria.

Being forced to leave your home is not a trivial affair. The last three years have witnessed scores of Iraqi professionals and businessman leaving to Jordan, Syria or Egypt, a second exodus of Iraqis far more alarming than that of the 90s. The country is slowly being stripped of its intelligentsia, and I fear that soon we will be left only with fanatics inside.

Following the Samarra bombing, many Shi'ite inhabitants of Sunni dominated areas north and west of Baghdad were forced to leave. In the south, a once sizeable Sunni community in Basrah, Nasiriya, Hilla and Samawa is diminishing day by day. Kurds in the north have regressed back behind their borders, further isolating themselves. Iraqi society is falling apart.

It seems that the barrage of bombings, assassinations, detentions and abductions is not enough, so we need one more thing to worry about.

And yes, we were discussing these pleasant issues over lunch. It was a splendid meal of Iraq Masgoof (roasted fish) on a refreshing sunny day at the bank of the Tigris, in the comforting company of family and friends.


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