Natural Death Considered a Blessing in Iraq
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Acts of violence kill Iraqis just about every day - a roadside bomb or a suicide attack or a sectarian killing. So it's now considered a blessing when someone simply dies a natural death.
NPR's Rachel Martin reports from Baghdad.
RACHEL MARTIN: Grief is everywhere in Iraq. Broken glass and rubble from car bombs litter neighborhoods. Black triangle-shaped death notices hang on front doors, and every day mosques are filled with mourners grieving the loss of a brother, father or daughter killed in sectarian violence.
(Soundbite of mosque)
MARTIN: Recently, hundreds of people gathered at a Shiite mosque to remember a 30-year-old Shiite father of two who was shot dead by Sunni insurgents at his home in South Baghdad. The imam addresses the crowd. He calls the young man a martyr and his killers...
Unidentified Man #1: (Speaking foreign language)
MARTIN: He says they're infidels according to all holy laws because they have wasted the divine gift, God's gift of the soul. Women are hysterically crying, men rock back and forth in prayer. There is a lot of pain here.
And while it's still hard to lose a loved one, no matter what, in Baghdad now when someone dies a natural death it's considered a divine gift. Una Abdul Razaaq(ph) lost her mother about a month ago when she died of heart failure.
Una is 45 years old and works as a housecleaner in Baghdad. She wears heavy blue eyeliner and dresses all in black, as she and the rest of her family will do for the next six months to mark their mother's death.
Ms. UNA ABDUL RAZAAQ (Housecleaner, Baghdad): (Through translator) We decided she should die at my eldest brother's house and not in a hospital. It would have been improper to leave her to die there. She was in her last days.
MARTIN: But a lot of people in Baghdad who lose family members in car bombs and sectarian attacks don't get to make such choices. And some families never even recover the bodies of their slain loved ones. Una knows this.
Ms. RAZAAQ: (Through translator) Thank God she died at home surrounded by her six daughters at her bedside along with my two brothers. We washed her body and gave her a decent burial. She died in dignity at home.
MARTIN: Una has bended the funerals of people killed in bomb attacks or assassinations, but her mother's funeral was much different, she says. When the 75-year-old passed away it was a kind of quiet celebration because of the normalness of it all. Una knows that's the exception now. People expect to die of unnatural causes and it's had a profound impact on Baghdad's collective psyche.
Mr. HEIDER JASSAN(ph) (Television Cameraman; Engineer, Baghdad): Life is so cheap now because there is no value for the Iraqi people.
MARTIN: Thirty-three-year-old Heider Jassan is an engineer by training, but he works as a television cameraman to support his family. And like most people here, he can recite a long list of names of people he's lost to sectarian violence in the past few years: friends, neighbors, family members. Jassan numbly describes how two of his cousins were shot dead at a highway checkpoint.
Mr. JASSAN: They shoot one of them, the driver shoot them with a machine gun, several bullets, killed immediately, and the others, there's a bullet in his face...
MARTIN: A few years ago, Jassan and his co-workers would spend hours rehashing the details of such horrific events. Now these stories are too painfully commonplace to talk about. But they're still with him.
Mr. JASSAN: I think there's dying, think in my mind every time, by explosion, by someone who want to kill (unintelligible)
MARTIN: Una Abdul Razzaq understands that preoccupation with death. Just the other day, not long after her mother's funeral, Una's 14-year-old neighbor was shot dead by a sniper while he was studying for his exams on the roof of his house. Blessings are few and far between in Baghdad. Being able to say goodbye to a loved one before they die has become even more precious.
Rachel Martin, NPR News, Baghdad.