Iraqis' Lives Remain Predictably Tragic
NOAH ADAMS, host:
And now to Iraq. Because security has improved in Baghdad, people are now able to move about more easily there. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro went out to do a story about how young Iraqis are spending more time in public places these days. She shares these notes about the experience. This is her Reporter's Notebook.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Even stories that don't work out tell you something about the situation here. I'd heard that every Friday, large groups of young men gather in an abandoned parking lot to drag race and do stunts with their hotrods and motorcycles - a good news story that, if true, would suggest that this sprawling, nervous, tragic city is slowly healing. We arrived, though, to find the lot abandoned. The police at the nearby checkpoint said the security services had stopped the weekly event because they were afraid a gathering that large would attract bombers. I then went to a public park that's recently been spruced up by the City of Baghdad - there are now flowers and trees.
(Soundbite of people talking)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But not many people. Among the few, a 17-year-old boy who works there tending pigeons that the occasional visitors come to feed. I asked him if this was still a dangerous place. Yes, Hussein Kadam(ph) said. There was a car bombing here only a week ago.
Mr. HUSSEIN KADAM (Baghdad Resident): (Through translator) I was sitting here talking when the explosion happened, and all my birds flew into the air. They were really scared. I called my family and told them about the explosion and that I was safe. They told me to quit because they said tending my pigeons in the park is dangerous job.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: While the situation in Baghdad is better, there is still good reason to be cautious here. I asked Hussein about his life. He's from the vast Shiite slum of Sadr City. He left school to work a year after the invasion.
Mr. KADAM: (Through translator) I quit in seventh grade because I'm the oldest and I'm responsible for my younger sisters. And, anyway, it was useless to stay in school then. Many of the students got kidnapped and others were killed in explosions. So I just started to work instead of study.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Two of his cousins have been killed - one in a carjacking, the other in fighting in Sadr City. Trying to make ends meet, he worked as a street sweeper for a while, but local Sunni paramilitaries threatened him and he switched to tending the birds.
Mr. KADAM: (Through translator) I was terrified. They told me they would call the Americans and make them imprison me. They thought that I was a member of the Shiite militia and I was going to kidnap or steal.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The Shiite-dominated police who guard the park have treated him no better though. He used to keep his pigeons in a wooden crate here until one day he came back and they were all gone. He says the police stole them.
Mr. KADAM: (Through translator) Two hundred birds stolen. We came that morning and we asked the police but they claimed that they hadn't seen anything. I ended up paying for the pigeons to be replaced.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: He dreams now of going back to school. He wants to become an electrical engineer.
I left him cooing to his birds. Nothing that Hussein told me was in any way extraordinary - the poverty, the random violence, the abuse at the hands of Iraq's myriad security services are all so familiar now. I came out to do a story about how this city and its people are changing, but what struck me is how this war has affected everyone here in predictably tragic ways.
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Baghdad.
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