BEIRUT

Middle East

Iraqis go about their lives under cloud of fear

People gather at the site of a car bomb attack in Baghdad, January 15, 2014. (REUTERS/Ahmed Saad)

BAGHDAD: The day after one of Iraq’s bloodiest days for months, shoppers and drivers packed the streets of Baghdad Thursday, grimly aware that death can strike anywhere, any time.

At least eight bombs hit the capital, mostly in Shiite districts, Wednesday, killing 40 people and wounding 88, while attacks elsewhere pushed the national death toll to 78.

“We are afraid even when we are in our houses, because we do not know the enemy,” Raed Mohammad said, as he and his assistant put spare machine parts back on the shelves of his shop, which had been damaged by one of the blasts in the Karrada neighborhood.

“We don’t know who is targeting us. We aren’t in a war where we know who we’re fighting,” the shopkeeper said. “We’ve lost our sense of security. Sometimes we have days when security is good, followed by days of relentless attacks.”

Mangled corrugated iron sheeting hung down from the storefront, which was open to the street. Pedestrians strode by without a second look at the pool of blood staining the asphalt.

“We walk in the streets with death certificates in our pockets,” Mohammad said. “We always have the feeling we won’t be going home. The problem is every one of us has a family, a wife and children to feed, so how would they live without us?”

Despite the almost daily carnage, Baghdad’s 7 million people have no choice but to go about their lives.

Sometimes the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) claims responsibility for the blasts, especially those involving suicide bomb attacks on ministries or other high-profile targets. Many explosions are never claimed.

“Every day, when I leave the house, I tell my wife what to do if I die,” said a middle-aged passer-by in a green jacket who gave his name only as Adel. “I’m afraid to take my wife and children out. I’m thinking of stopping my child from going to school out of fear that schools will be bombed.”

Two years after U.S. troops left Iraq, violence has climbed back to its highest levels since the Sunni-Shiite bloodletting of 2006-2007, when tens of thousands were killed.

The U.N. says nearly 9,000 people died violently in Iraq last year, all but 1,050 of them civilians.

The bombers have been just as diligent this year, with tension high since ISIS gunmen and their Sunni tribal allies seized the city of Fallujah west of Baghdad on Jan. 1, exploiting widespread Sunni resentment at the Shiite-led government.

The bombing campaign, whose targets include the army and police, Shiite civilians and pro-government Sunni tribal fighters, appears aimed at provoking Shiite militias to retaliate and plunge Iraq back into open sectarian warfare.

Such calculations are lost on Baghdad’s residents, who, like people everywhere, just want to work, relax and send their kids to school knowing they will come home safely.

Men smiled and joked in the winter sunshine as they waited to pay for their fruit and vegetables at a market stall. A woman dressed in black wheeled a toddler past toys laid out on the pavement. Honking vehicles snarled the roads as normal.

“It is true the security situation is unstable, but you can see people out and about,” said Fadhil al-Nidawi, a man in his 40s.

“After each attack, people clean up, remove the rubble and go on with their business as usual. People have got used to it. ...

“Those who want to harm Iraq should think it over – they will achieve nothing.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 17, 2014, on page 10.

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Summary

The day after one of Iraq's bloodiest days for months, shoppers and drivers packed the streets of Baghdad Thursday, grimly aware that death can strike anywhere, any time.

At least eight bombs hit the capital, mostly in Shiite districts, Wednesday, killing 40 people and wounding 88, while attacks elsewhere pushed the national death toll to 78 .

Despite the almost daily carnage, Baghdad's 7 million people have no choice but to go about their lives.

Two years after U.S. troops left Iraq, violence has climbed back to its highest levels since the Sunni-Shiite bloodletting of 2006-2007, when tens of thousands were killed.

The U.N. says nearly 9,000 people died violently in Iraq last year, all but 1,050 of them civilians.


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