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And President Bush today announced a plan to draw down troops from Iraq. He says he'll bring 8,000 troops home by early next year. We have been hearing about the dramatic drop in bombings and shootings in Iraq. Still, despite the improvements, that country is far from secure. Hundreds of Iraqis are being killed and wounded each month. Some have started to commemorate those deaths with billboards springing up along the streets of the capital. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Baghdad.
PETER KENYON: Tarik Shaker Hamoudi hasn't heard the relentless commentary echoing across America this election year. He hasn't heard that the U.S. troop surge single-handedly brought calm to Baghdad and that America is within sight of victory in Iraq. He has been too busy relearning how to walk after an explosion last year in the same spot killed his brother and left him with two badly damaged legs.
Water drips from a charred and broken pipe across the street from Hamoudi's small roadside shop in Baghdad's Mansour neighborhood. A stocky man in his late 50s, Hamoudi hobbles on two metal canes to approximately where he was standing last Friday night when a suicide bomber rammed his vehicle into a passing convoy belonging to Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi.
Mr. TARIK SHAKER HAMOUDI (Survivor of Suicide Bombing; Baghdad Resident): (Through Translator) I fell down inside my shop, and I heard my two friends, they were wounded and crying for help. I said, I can't help you. When I got up, I was going crazy. I saw people lying everywhere.
KENYON: It was another failed attempt to assassinate Chalabi, the former exile responsible for much of the flawed intelligence used by the Bush administration to press for the invasion of Iraq. The large car bomb tore viciously through the neighborhood, splattering bits of hair and flesh on the roof across the street where 83-year-old Samira was trying to sleep in the brutal summer heat. With her long, gray hair, trembling, she says, in a querulous voice, that things may be better for some Iraqis, but not for her.
Ms. SAMIRA (Baghdad Resident): (Through Translator) The security situation is bad. The explosions are still happening. Two months ago, a bomb exploded and all my windows were broken. And now this latest explosion has basically destroyed my house.
KENYON: Viewed from a distance, there is no question that Iraq is a less violent place in 2008 than it has been in years. Figures compiled by Iraq's interior ministry show the Iraqi death toll falling from thousands each month in 2006 to hundreds each month this year. In July and August, the totals were just over 100 fatalities per month. As always, the vast majority civilians.
But in today's Baghdad, reminders of death are everywhere. Traditionally, Iraqi families hung cloth banners announcing the names of their dead. But lately, billboards have appeared, large and small, complete with names, photos, date of death, and sometimes a phrase from the Koran. Print shop worker Abdul Khalik al-A'araji says the requests for martyrs' billboards come in steadily.
Mr. ABDUL KHALIK AL-A'ARAJI (Print Shop Worker, Baghdad): (Through Translator) The strangest order I got was a billboard for 18 martyrs, all from the same family. They all died on the same day, a mother, her daughters and sons, in one attack. I guess I should say it's not really strange, but it's a painful thing.
KENYON: Lately, the billboards have begun to feature not just the newly killed, but some of those who perished in earlier carnage before the Bush administration committed five additional brigades to Iraq. Thirty-five-year-old Ali Hamid knows that some Iraqis are uncomfortable with the billboard featuring his five family members who died along with more than 100 others in a rocket and car bomb attack that caused buildings to collapse in the Karrada neighborhood in late July 2006. He himself doesn't need the billboard to remind him to honor their memory, but he thinks his government absolutely does.
Mr. ALI HAMID (Bereaved Baghdad Resident): (Through Translator) The main reason to put up this billboard is to remind our officials we voted you into power, and what have we gained? We're still burying our children. We hope our leaders ask themselves, why did this young man die? Why was this little girl killed? They protect themselves in the Green Zone and leave us to die every day.
KENYON: Through the month of August, a comparatively quiet month, the government reported 92 roadside bombs, 54 mortars, seven car bombs, a dozen Katyusha rocket attacks, and seven car bombs, resulting in 462 Iraqis killed or wounded. As September opened in Anbar province, hailed as a model for turning the country around, four Iraqi policemen were attacked at a checkpoint outside Fallujah. Two were kidnapped, and two were killed on the spot, their heads lopped off al-Qaeda style. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Baghdad.
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