Friday, May 06, 2005


The gardenias are blooming in Baghdad, but Hala is not allowed out in the garden to cut them. A 16-year-old high school student, Hala was kidnapped for a day in the middle of April and has not set foot outside her house since. ...

On April 15, a group of armed men in jeans and T-shirts stopped at her gate while she was waiting for her math tutor. They forced her into their BMW, handcuffed her, took her to a trash-strewn field and beat her. Later, they realized they had taken the wrong girl and returned her to her home, warning that they would kill her if she went to the police.

Since then she has not been outside, even for a haircut, or to pick the flowers so thick in their garden in the late Baghdad spring. Her friends are not allowed to visit because her father, Mustafa, does not want to be responsible for their safety. She no longer goes to school. Several family friends are tutoring her to help her parents reduce the new cost of home schooling. ...

He and his wife, Fayha, who is also confined to the house, asked that their last name not be used for fear of retribution by the kidnappers.

The accident, as the family calls the kidnapping, has forged strange new patterns in their daily lives. Mustafa has to do all the shopping, including purchases of tampons and women's clothes. Fayha can no longer walk to the outside gate to see off a relative. She misses meeting a neighbor's eye by chance, while sweeping her walk.

"I feel like someone's choking me, like I can't breathe," said Fayha, whose foot is in a cast from being thrown to the ground during the kidnapping. "Like I'm in jail with no jailer."
Athir Haddad has been subject to bouts of nerves since his wife, Amal Maamlaji, was killed while waiting in a traffic jam in September. He has learned to flick on the radio and read small items in the newspaper to calm himself down. When that does not work, "I hope, just hope," he said. "I am not a religious person."

Mr. Haddad and his family returned to Iraq in 2001 after living abroad for decades, mostly in Libya. Once back, his wife became a consultant in a government ministry, plunging into work on women's rights.

"She filled the house," he said, his eyes brimming. "She was very energetic - discussions, jokes. She was more than a wife and a mother. Now, I just feel lonely."
Eight-year-old Amir Ali Hamza was watching cartoons in his grandfather's kitchen in the western neighborhood of Al Khadr on Sunday, when a suicide car bomber attacked an American Army convoy outside, setting off an explosion that shattered all the windows. Amir was killed instantly.

Women and men filed through the house like ghosts on the third day of mourning for him on Wednesday. Sheets billowed through the empty windows. Shiite Islamic prayers played from a tape recorder. The crevices in the couch were still filled with shards of glass.
"The average man does not want to be free. He simply wants to be safe." H.L. Mencken

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