Tuesday, October 25, 2005


Across Iraq the constitution was ratified by over 78%.

But the vote was much closer than it appears - if three provinces had rejected the draft constitution by a two-thirds margin, it would have constituted a veto and sent the entire process back to the drawing board.

Two Sunni Arab provinces, Anbar and Salahuddin, did solidly reject the draft constitution.

The vote then came down to the wire in the ethnically mixed province of Nineveh.

In the final tally today, Nineveh did vote against the constitution, but only by about 55% - short of the two-thirds margin for a veto.

By contrast, there's an article at Knight-Ridder that shows how little a new constitution changes anything about life in Iraq. Daily life has been getting more and more difficult for Iraqis over the past months; and even when it seems conditions are as awful as they can get, they get worse. In Baghdad, as Knight-Ridder reporters Matthew Schofield and Mohammed Alawsy tell us, people have become prisoners in their own homes, unable to step outside their door for anything but the most dire emergencies, for fear of being killed or kidnapped.

Samira Kubba wakes early each day, though she's not sure why. A year ago, she would have been busy helping her husband prepare for work, shopping for her family, meeting friends, planning the celebration for breaking the daily fast after sunset during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Today, she knows she won't leave the house, except in case of emergency: a child in danger, the food supply running low. Even then, the excursion will be carried out with military precision: a timed route, covered by machine guns. She won't stop to chat with friends, she won't look in the eyes of anyone she passes, she won't stop for tea at a favorite cafe - all parts of daily life for her as little as months ago.

"We do not think about how we live our days in Baghdad these days. We wonder whether we will survive them," she said. "No place outside this house is safe."

Two and a half years after the city fell during the U.S.-led invasion, the world is shrinking for many residents, if not most of them. First they felt confined to their region, then their city, then their neighborhoods, then their blocks. Now, it's down to their houses, and, once inside, rich and poor are quick to point out the safest rooms, the places where their entire families now sleep at night.
Resident fear insurgents and their car bombs and random gunfire. They fear Iraqi police, who are famously corrupt. They fear criminals, who've turned kidnapping - especially of children - into a prime business. They fear soldiers - both U.S. and Iraqi - who shoot innocent civilians every day, fearing they might be insurgents. Even their own guards have to be feared: Desperation destroys loyalties, and the price of release for a bodyguard's child can be the deliverance of a rich man's son.

"I cannot sleep at night," Falah Kubba said, his eyelids sagging and bruised from rubbing. "In bed, my wife rests on one side, and my new second wife - a pump-action shotgun - stays in my arms on the other side. I am up all night, aiming at the doors every time there is a bump. This is no way to live. It is a way to die."

After the fifth child on their block was kidnapped this summer, he cleared out an old office connected to his house as a play area for neighborhood children. The doors and windows are covered by iron gates, chains and padlocks. A family member with a locked and loaded AK-47 automatic kneels in front of the only entrance. While the children play - the youngest with a collection of push toys, the older ones with bicycles or balls, the teenagers sitting and chatting on the steps to the second floor - Falah keeps his second wife at hand.

"I'm a businessman," he explained. In fact, his brother was executed under Saddam Hussein and he was arrested, for insisting that the international business currency should be American dollars, not Iraqi dinar. "These days I eat my money, and my business is to keep my family together, and alive."

The Kubbas lives in Mansur, an area of large homes with marble entryways and exterior walls decorated with statues. Across town, in the middle-class and extremely dangerous Amariyah neighborhood, Huda al Zubaydi walks her children to school each morning. Afterward, she grabs a spot among other parents sitting or leaning against the school's security wall. They do this every day, and they wait until the final bell, waiting to walk their kids back home.

"The shootings, the bombings, the kidnappings: It's all too dangerous to leave my children alone," she said recently from her modest home. "The school cannot protect them. We can't trust anyone to protect them. I breathe again once I get them back inside the house. Maybe we're not safe in the house, either, but where else is there?"

Her husband, Abass, has to leave each day, to go to work. The bullets are a constant, so constant that he doesn't recognize them anymore, as are the mortar rounds that rain down on his neighborhood daily. The car bombs and the military checkpoints still shake him up, however.

"We don't know who our enemy is now," he said. "But we know it could be anyone outside our doors. We do not go outside if we can help it."

What good is a constitution when you have to live like this?

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