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Family with war as companion
- Mohammed Ibrahim has lost three sons, but the bombs still follow him and his clan of 24

Baghdad, April 22: Faroukh, shot in Amara.

Faisal, killed in Basra.

Fareed, also in the army, sick and dead in Baghdad.

That was in another war. None of the others in the family dared go into the army after the eight-year Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. The wars came to them.

In house No. 5, Mohalla 604, Zokak 14, Qadisiyah, the family survives, has survived, another bombing of Baghdad. Head of the family Mohammed Ibrahim Rahim Baksh, 76, speaks Urdu. His father had come to Iraq from Karachi with the British Indian army in 1914, the year World War I broke out.

Faroukh, Faisal and Fareed were Mohammed Ibrahim’s sons. With wife Khadija Ishaq Baqub, he has three more sons — Faras, Fowzi and Faoud — and three daughters — Fauziyah, Fariyal and Fatin. Khadija can speak rudimentary Punjabi. Her father was from Ferozepur.

“When we sit down to dinner, there are 24 of us,” says Mohammed Ibrahim, who retired 24 years ago from a storekeeper’s job in the Dora refinery near Baghdad.

The three-storeyed house holds them together. Faroukh’s widow, Intesaar, with her three children, and Mohammed Ibrahim’s daughter Fariyal, her children, and even her ex-husband, Hamid — an army officer who remarried and divorced again — are part of the extended family. Fariyal teaches Arabic to a class of 40 at the government school in Al-Julan.

Dinner comprises khabbus (bread), a soup of chicken or lamb or beef or fish, adas, a hot and spicy preparation of lentil, and batinjon, a gruel of tomatoes and potatoes. Fish for the family costs 7,000 Iraqi dinar, 2 chickens 4,000 dinar ($1 = 3,000 Iraqi dinar).

“We stocked up for the war like everyone else,” says Fariyal. “We stored food and water because we knew our locality Qadisiyah will be bombed but we had nowhere to go. There is the Baath Party office here. Along the river (the Tigris), every house is in ruins.”

Tamara, Mohammed Ibrahim’s 14-year-old granddaughter, turned religious during the bombing. She rarely steps outdoors and is always in her chador and with the sipha — the beads by which the faithful remember Allah.

“Tamara was praying and crying all day and all night but the smaller ones, Sarah (6) and Omar (10), could not figure it out,” says their father Faras.

The family was surprised that American soldiers were suddenly in Baghdad. How did it happen' Baghdad was predicted to be a bitter battle. But the only real fight, barring the skirmishing that continues, was in the Saddam International Airport. Umm Qasr and Basra fought so much. Why not Baghdad'

A patter of conversation in Arabic breaks out in the assembled family.

“I think it was the bombing,” says Mohammed Ibrahim. “There were thousands and thousands of bombs.”

Fariyal: “We don’t know what happened. We saw soldiers and everyone prepared to fight. Then suddenly one afternoon they simply vanished.”

Faras: “But people saw Saddam fighting.”

Did he' No.

Fowzi: “Yes, they said Saddam was on a tank here on the Qadisiyah Expressway.”

The Qadisiyah Expressway is another of Baghdad’s wide roads. The wail of ambulance sirens wafts into the house every few minutes.

Marwah, 19, and Meena, 14 — Fariyal’s daughters — say they have heard too from their friends that Saddam was on the streets, rallying his troops.

Amal, Faras’ wife: “We were sure it was going to be a long war. We believed Saddam when he said everybody will fight till the last drop of blood. I think someone betrayed him.”

Fariyal: “Yes, how could Baghdad be surrounded in two days and fall so suddenly'”

Fariyal wants to leave with her mother, Khadija, and the women. Two days ago a neighbour was killed accidentally. The local boys had turned vigilante to guard against looters. The neighbour was driving and met with an accident while trying to avoid the firing.

Fariyal: “I think our soldiers had weapons that were too old. They pulled the trigger but the shots did not fire. We can’t sure of what happened. Some of our friends say there was an order to the soldiers to get out of their uniforms and go home.”

Fariyal’s school is closed for weeks. She earns a livelihood by stitching kaftans for women. Faras and his brother Fowzi look for work as drivers. They have two old Chevrolets. Faras bought his second-had in 1990 for $1,500.

Away from the house, Faras and Fowzi say that Fariyal is a very strong woman and that she is in effect the head of the family. Her husband, Hamid, was a “very senior officer” in the Iraqi army.

They divorced several years ago. Hamid studied in Russia, says Faras, drawing the insignia of Hamid’s rank on a sheet of paper. In the Indian army, it is the equivalent of a colonel. Hamid was in air defence. Did he fight this time'

“We don’t know,” says Faras. “Very senior officer but very weak man. Twice talaq. He is a philanderer.”

It is getting dark and past curfew time. The crackle of gunfire to the left is from this bank of the Tigris. Faras and Fowzi offer a ride. Across the July 14 Revolution bridge, the only light is from the single sharp beam of an armoured personnel carrier.

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