On the road to Diyala, the exodus had begun before dawn, as American troops broke through Iraqi defenses near the Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. Into rickety flatbed trucks, battered orange-and-white taxis charging sixteen times their usual fare, beat-up Volkswagens and minibuses plastered with signs that read, God is greatest,” people piled the artifacts of broken lives. There were colorful mattresses and coarse blankets, pots and pans. There were bulging
suitcases and black-and-white televisions.
There were sacks of flour, jerry cans filled with gas, and ovens for baking bread perched precariously in trunks. Most abundant, there were the long gazes out windows, as thousands leaving Baghdad stared out the windows of their vehicles at their uncertain city. Long before dawn, the procession had snarled the main road out of Baghdad to northern Iraq, with bumper-to-bumper traffic stretching as many as five miles. Most people were headed to Diyala, a relatively tranquil province of farms irrigated by a river that shares its name and renowned for its groves of oranges. Many said they would find houses, hotels or share space with relatives already there. How long before their return was a question no one was willing to answer.” When it’s calm, we’ll come back,” Osama Jassim told me, his face drawn. Maybe tomorrow, maybe a week, maybe a month,” he said when I asked him when he expected to go home.
It all depends on God.”