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Giggles in quiet corner of Iraq

New Delhi, April 1 (Reuters): There are pictures of Saddam Hussein all over but this is still a relatively quiet corner of Iraq.

The only sound that can be heard at the Iraqi school in the Indian capital is the giggling of children and the chanting of the Quran in a religion class.

“We’re used to war. This is not the first time we’ve been bombed,” said Badria Alrukaby, an English teacher at the Iraqi school tucked away in a leafy neighbourhood in Delhi, which also teaches children from other Arab nations.

“Also, the children have to take their exams next month,” she sighed, standing near a picture of a young Saddam Hussein with his little daughter in his lap.

It may be business as usual but most of the 55 Iraqi students in the school worry about their families at home.

“I spoke to my sister a day before the war began. Since then there’s been no contact. What can we do' There are no phones, no communications,” said Mohammad Abbas, a class12 student who plans to go to a medical college in Baghdad after school.

“We can’t concentrate on our studies. We keep watching TV at home.”

In many ways, the school, housed in a residential building, mirrors the state of Iraq after years of economic sanctions: it has no modern gear and the students use worn desks and chairs.

The biggest concern of the 16 teachers, who wear traditional Islamic headdress, and 150 students who come from nations such as Yemen and Sudan besides Iraq, is the annual exam.

Some of the children at the 30-year-old school, whose parents are diplomats or students in Indian universities, say they are at a critical stage in their lives when they need to focus on planning their careers instead of the war.

Principal Saad M. Jassim said the students gathered in his office to watch TV the day the war began but have returned to their normal routine since.

“The children are naturally disturbed but the school is carrying on as usual,” he said, seated before an Iraqi flag and a portrait of Saddam Hussein in his office.

It is tough for the students to fully erase their feelings of anxiety and anger.

Seema, a 17-year-old student, says she is worried about her sister in Iraq who is seven months pregnant, but cannot do anything for her.

“There is no way of getting in touch with her. But I have faith in God,” she said.

Mohammad Abbas, too, is stoic about the war but he is also angry.

“So many people have been killed and so many Iraqis are refugees,” he said.

“The British and the Americans thought the Iraqis would cheer and welcome them with flags and flowers but they were wrong.”

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