Where the bomb exploded
This is my third day back in Iraq. The country is still in chaos and deteriorating. There are far more blast blocks, mass unemployment, and the security situation is far worse. But perhaps more telling than all this is that the Iraqi people still believe they are under occupation, most I have met saying that they were better off under the old regime.However, despite all this, the ordinary Iraqi person is still as hospitable as ever. It is really good to see Helen and Wejdy. They are clearly still very upset about Ghareeb and Enzo.
Yesterday was a day of visiting old friends - all happy to see me back in Iraq. The same theme occurred again and again - summed up by Hayder who said "Our country has no future".
Jamal's brother, Ali, has returned safely to Bagdad from Nagaf after fighting with the Mahdi Army. When you have peaceful, intelligent and kind young men like Ali feeling that the only way forward is to take up arms and fight, you can see quite clearly that things are only going to become worse.
Another friend's family has broken down - mainly due to the extreme, prolonged stress put upon them. He has left, gone wayward if you like, but who are we to judge him?
It was, however, an event that took place during our visit to Abdullah, the first person we visited yesterday, that turned out to be more significant than we thought at the time. We left the appartment for the day at 11.10 am. We visited Abdullah in the Palestine Hotel, where he works - one of the lucky ones - he has a job. A large explosion happened - it sounded fairly nearby, but as usual, we carried on with our conversation - hearing explosions is not unusual here. Later in the day, we spoke to Ali, a Palestine Hotel security guard - he mentioned that a bomb had gone off this morning in Kerrada near a mosque. It crossed our minds that it could be the mosque near the appartment, but Ali said that it he believed that it was a mosque further down Kerrada than where the appartment is.
At 6 pm we returned to our neighbourhood in Kerrada to discover bomb damage. Not just to the shops, stalls and homes, but also to Helen's appartment. The roadside bomb, meant to hit a convoy of American humvees, had been placed just 30 metres away. The force of the blast had shattered the front kitchen window of the appartment, showering glass all over the floor. The window, repaired only a few weeks ago, will now have to be fixed again. This bomb, no doubt unreported, killed two Iraqis and injured a further ten. Helen knew a number of the injured. In her words:
As we stepped off the bus at 6pm and crossed the low concrete central reservation, we noticed that it was badly damaged at a point just one metre away from the site of December's roadside bomb. There was shattered glass all around on the road itself. It looked as though there had been a road traffic accident. That is until we saw a big pile of broken window glass swept up tidily on the pavement. Then we realised that there had been a roadside bomb. This is the bomb we had heard when we were with Abdullah and the one that Ali had mentioned. The bomb had gone off at midday, 50 minutes after we had caught a bus from that very spot. Two people had been killed and 10 had been injured. Of course, the Americans in their humvees, were unhurt - it was Iraqis who suffered again. Three men in Hasan's fish shop had been injured: Hamid's eye and head were cut from flying stones; Ahmed had shrapnel wounds to his waist; Jaffa had a cut on his neck - all three had gone to hospital. Although I am vegan and they are fishkillers, I was so deeply disturbed and horrified - they are my neighbours and nice friendly neighbours at that. I felt sick and tired.
One of the men who had died had just returned to Iraq from Syria where his family are waiting for him. They had left because of the deteriorating security situation in Iraq and this man had made the trip back just to collect belongings from their home - clothes, toys, furniture etc.
Abu Ali had just bought fish and left the area just two minutes before - he heard the blast as he returned to his office and saw people running away down the street. He is conviced the Americans did it.
Many shop windows we shattered on the main street. We crossed to the felafel shop, devastated and smashed in December's road side bomb, when one man had been killed. And here again were broken windows. Hayder, one of the boys there, showed us his hand, cut by the glass, and Abu Hanin, the owner, pointed to the shattered glass clock on the wall and explained how the television had also blown up. You know, they only replaced the shop hoarding from the last bomb in April - 4 months ago.
Safa'a (ice man) and Tariq (tea man) told us how they had spotted a cardboard box in the middle of the road half an hour before. Hasan (fish man) had been handling it, wondering if somebody had left some electrical applicance there that they had just bought, by accident. I shuddered when he told me this - he could have been blown to pieces. The traffic police had been called, but failed to show, with devastating consequences. When the police did turn up, too late and after the event, they searched our appartment building and the one next door. Next door they arrested three builders working on the roof - they have been working there for weeks. As for our building, the police had been up on our roof and had also tried to break in to our appartment.
The glass in the kitchen window was shattered - glass chards lay all over the kitchen floor and cooker etc - thank goodness none of us had been making tea or preparing food. And the windows had only been repaired several weeks ago after the church bombs.
Still devasted after the loss of Ghareeb and Enzo, I found it hard to hide my shock and tears as my neighbours recounted events.
Wejdy and Kevin went out to video, take photos and talk to people. I remained indoors to clear up the glass and I looked out at the friendly street that is now my home.
I saw little Ayar and Hamzah, beautiful children who live next door. There mother died giving birth to Hamzah, they have lived through sanctions, war and ocupation and today doubtless witnessed blood, carnage and death yet again in their young lives. And here they were, just hours later, playing and laughing.
Ali,13 years old, one of my favorites here, was working as normal - always a big smile on his face.
Hasan, 14 years old, was playing about and kicking at Wejdy as usual. But he told Wejdy how he had just left the butcher's shop slightly further up the street when the bomb exploded - he had been so scared, he just ran straight back in the shop.
Jaffa and Hamid returned from hospital and got on with their work.
Our street, temporarily broken and devastated, just 6 short hours earlier, was back to normal. I feel certain that, if it happened in my street in Wales, it would not return to normality for weeks, if not months.
Back to Kevin:
After sweeping up the broken glass, we sat down to eat. The neighbours had assured us that, although in danger here, we were not the target. A little while later, three of the street children popped round to visit us and see how we were. they had some food and drink, chatted for a bit and left. I had the feeling that they enjoyed visiting Helen here because they are treated like proper human beings and not like 'street kids'.
I met some more of the boys during a shopping trip up Kerrada main street the night before.
Hayder with the knee, very stoned on thinner, was very happy to see me. Despite his high state, he recognised me immediately and hugged and hugged me, asking if I remembered him. Of course I did - his little cheeky face and sharp eyes - poor Hayder had been shot in the knee in June 2003, caught in the crossfire of a street gun battle as security was breaking down in this country.
A little further on we met Ali (with the smile). He was also very happy and seems to be taking a break from the House of Mercy Children's Home for a spell on the streets. It's a shame as he was doing well there - but Ali, like so many of the boys drift back and fro from home to street. We just hope the home spells become longer and the streets spells more distant and shorter.
The heat here is something else. It hits you as you walk down the street. As soon as 'Bagdad electric' goes off and the generator comes on, you start to sweat in the appartment (the generator does not have enough power to run air conditioning). Air conditioning and fans and air coolers are vital in summer here. But with (currently) only 12 hours of electric a day, Iraqis have to cope as best they can in the blinding heat. And cope they do. Cope with bombs, cope with the summer heat, cope with no electric - but the worst, as I keep hearing, is cope with no security.
All for now.
Living amongst Iraqis in Bagdad
From Newport, South Wales
Kevin Williams & Helen Williams