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Within hours, we had left our home to find refuge. Things will get very bad

Ahmad Ali

Baghdad, February 23, 2006

I saw the news of the bomb on television when I was eating breakfast with my children. By lunch we had packed up our essential belongings and left to find refuge at a relative's house.

There was no argument from my wife. She knew as I did what the sight of the destroyed dome meant.

We live in a mixed Sunni and Shia area in Baghdad. Tonight there will be bloodshed and retaliation attacks and this time we are not going to sit inside while hoping we are lucky and the bullets do not come through our windows. This time we are leaving because things will get very bad.

It is not as if there are not already problems here. A neighbour was shot on his doorstep only a few days ago. Recently I visited the shops and the road was sealed: five armed men had been shooting at one of the Shia shops. The shopkeepers from all the other shops started firing back and the bodies were just lying in the street.

Such situations are common. We get used to them whether it is the Iraqi army closing off all the access roads so they can raid some house or the American helicopters flying over at night.

But this is going to be worse, I think. This may be the start of when it all goes really wrong and the thing that we all fear - the sectarian war that will destroy my country and my children's future - may be about to begin.

The Shia are crazy about this. I am Sunni and I am frightened that if I do not go somewhere to be surrounded by those who can protect me then they may take out their anger on me.

We were not alone on the roads. There were many cars with families in them. Then even more surprisingly there was the sight of the black-shirted followers of Moqtada al-Sadr with their Kalashnikovs at many of the street corners.

There were police out as well but they are standing with them manning checkpoints, not trying to tell them to go home.

I have seen such a thing before in Najaf but never in Baghdad. It frightened my wife. "There is the smell of civil war everywhere," she said to me.

At my relatives' house everyone was very nervous. There was news from cousins in Najaf. They said it was entirely blocked off and no one can get in or out. A friend in Basra said it was like a city of ghosts, no one on the street to be seen.

A nephew rang to say he has just witnessed a Sunni imam being shot. He was at the Yalani mosque when gunmen started firing at it. Then one got the imam and shot him twice in the head. He said they were young Mahdi army, teenagers with guns. All peaceful Iraqis are terrified of them nowadays.

I tried to play with my children to keep them from seeing how nervous we all are but I can hear people talking and the news is not good.

Another mosque has been attacked with 40 armed men shooting at it. In Sadr city, the big Shia part of town across from where I am now, thousands of Shia were marching. The news said many have Kalashnikovs.

This is not the city I knew. I had friends and colleagues who were Shia. My family married into Shia families. Now I am too frightened to be in my home. Maybe we will feel safe to go back when things are calm. But tonight we are fugitives. How did it ever get to this?

:: Article nr. 20937 sent on 24-feb-2006 01:44 ECT


Link: www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/02/23/wirq123.xml&sSheet=/new

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