Fate Of Fallujah Family Tells Story Of Iraq War's Toll

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Majid Madloul Mohammed

Majid Madloul Mohammed is a 47-year-old retired policeman who lives in Fallujah, in western Iraq's restive Anbar province, with his wife and five children. He says that when the U.S. invaded, he believed things would get better. But the reality has been far different. Ali Omar for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Ali Omar for NPR
Muna Abdul Ellah Abbas

Majid's wife, Muna Abdul Ellah Abbas, 36, has lost all four of her brothers during the six-year war in Iraq. Ali Omar for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Ali Omar for NPR

Friday marks the sixth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war, and perhaps no Iraqi city has faced the horrors of the conflict like Fallujah in western Anbar province.

Once the heart of the insurgency, Fallujah residents have lived under al-Qaida rule, faced two American offensives, witnessed former insurgents become security officers, and now are waiting for reconstruction to finally begin.

And possibly no single family in Fallujah has been affected by the fortunes of their home city as much as Majid Madloul Mohammed, his wife, Muna Abdul Ellah Abbas, and their five children.

They live in a modest, two-story house in a middle-class neighborhood. Majid, a 47-year-old retired policeman, says that when America invaded, he believed things would get better.

"We heard Iraq would be different. There would be more food, more everything. We were happy, hoping for the best," he says.

But then, the first member of their family died: a nephew, shot in a street battle in 2003 as he was coming home from middle school.

'Full-On Disaster,' Displacement

As the insurgency took root, Majid kept his children close to home, afraid that they, too, would be killed or join what he terms "the resistance."

"I didn't allow them to go outside the house. I'd tell them to focus on studying. I'm unemployed, and I want my sons to be better than me," he says.

But things only got worse.

In mid-2004, the U.S. military stormed Fallujah after a group of American contractors were killed and dragged through the streets of the city. Majid's family fled to their cousin's house in Ramadi, the provincial capital. Later, the family was displaced again, ending up in Baghdad shortly before the Americans launched a second offensive against Fallujah.

"It was a full-on disaster for us. A tank pushed its way into our house; it destroyed everything — walls, windows. We lost everything," Majid says.

Muna, his wife, lost two of her brothers in the fighting.

"Abu Sinan and Sultan — they were fighting the Americans in the second Fallujah battle. Abu Sinan was killed by the Americans. As for Sultan, we never found out what happened to him. He was so young, 15, he barely had a mustache," says Muna.

The family eventually moved back to Fallujah and struggled to rebuild their home. But their difficulties were far from over. Sectarian bloodshed had blossomed in Iraq.

Some Improvements Seen

Majid is a Sunni; Muna is a Shiite. They were appalled by what was happening around them.

"We were terrified to see things escalating. I remember talking to a friend of mine, asking her how this could happen in a country where mixed marriages were once so common," Muna says.

It was at this time that Muna lost her third brother. He was killed by unknown assailants in Baghdad.

The family despaired. But Majid says things began to improve in Anbar after the birth of the Awakening movement — tribal leaders who turned on al-Qaida and fought alongside the Americans.

"They ensured security. After they took over, we began to be able to go out, go to work; schools opened again," he says.

Death Can Come At Any Time

The family began to hope that the worst was over.

But while Iraq is more secure, it is still a terrible fact that death can come at any time in the country. This past December, Muna's last surviving brother happened to be walking by a police station that was hit by a suicide bomber.

She couldn't believe the news.

"My son came back crying, 'My uncle has been martyred.' I asked him, 'Are you sure he is dead, not just wounded?' He told me, 'No, I am sure he is dead.' "

Majid says his wife hasn't been the same since.

"She keeps crying all the time. I don't know how to deal with it. She lost all her brothers. All day and night, she's sad," he says.

Iraqis Have Become 'Exhausted'

Muna says she blames the American invasion for what has happened to her family. She says she encourages her children to avenge her dead brothers.

"I've lost all my brothers. Do you expect my children to be cowards? Who will avenge me if not them?" she says.

But her husband says that as the war enters its seventh year, few Iraqis have an appetite for killing anymore.

"We want peace. Iraqis have become exhausted. We feel as if all we have done is suffer, and we keep on suffering," Majid says.

His wizened face sags and he repeats, "We are simply exhausted."

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