This is a marvelous insight into life in Baghdad, published in today's New York Times.
Moving to Baghdad
Balen Y. Younis is an Iraqi employee of The New York Times.
BAGHDAD — Life in Baghdad is very dangerous. At some level it resembles American action movies, with a difference that is called Death.
There is nothing more awful than walking out on the road and being afraid of every car that passes by. Or any person: Women, men and children, as well as cans and even animals, can be detonated and can put an end to your life.
Once you arrive at your destination safely and start work, you are still in danger of mortar attacks.
Even if you have avoided these threats, you are still in danger. While you are in deep sleep, a gang can break into your house or flat and behead you or kidnap you, taking you to an unknown place, either for money or for sectarian reasons.
In any other country or place, the police or army is a symbol of security, authority and stability. It gives a kind of relief to your soul. But here you should keep away from these forces because they are targets for gunmen and Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, and they randomly fire back, making the situation more and more dangerous.
Your destiny may come at any moment, like one of those dumped unidentified bodies around the city.
Amid all these fears, I got a job at the Baghdad office of The New York Times. Most people dream of having such a chance, but not in Baghdad. Everyone in Kurdistan advised me not to go, saying: “Are you crazy, man? Your life is much more important.”
Now, more than two months have passed. I am in Baghdad spending my time between two rooms: I mean the newsroom in the Times office and my bedroom in my own flat, which depresses me deeply. No refreshment, no entertainment.
Three days ago, I decided to take a walk along Karrada Inner Street, which is considered relatively secure compared with other areas in Baghdad. I found it quite interesting; people were walking, chatting, buying, laughing, and acting normally, as if there were no risks to people’s lives.
Gradually, I started to get used to the situation and pay attention to things around me, to behave normally and forget about my fear. This encouraged me to stand by a fast-food stall on the road and ask for a sandwich. I said to myself: “What if a suicide bomber blows up just right behind or next to me? My body’s biggest chunk will be just like the meat inside the sandwich.” But I decided to push these thoughts from my head and sit comfortably to eat and enjoy my time.
After a while I heard gunfire nearby. I stood up to check what was going on. “I warned you not to park here,” a policeman shouted at a young driver, who seemed to be pigheaded.
Thank God it was nothing, just a nervous police officer who was about to cause me a clot.
At that time, what drew my attention was that, unlike me, no one else cared about what had happened. No one was even tense. It was as if I were the only one who had heard those gunshots. I wondered why nobody cared. The answer was that they had gotten so used to such situations, it didn’t even tickle their sense of fear.
Two days later, I went to the National Theater with my colleague to cover a conference, but we were late and barely got an interview.
On our way back to the office, we decided to eat at one of the restaurants in the area. What is most interesting, the next day when I got to the office, I heard my colleague talking on the phone with a police official: “Where did that happen?” Later I found out that there had been an explosion near the National Theater. I said to myself, “Oh my God, it is my only way to the bureau.” The explosion occurred just 15 minutes earlier. I cross that area every day while heading to the office.
My colleague prepared to rush to the scene, and asked if I would come. In fact he did not need me, but I said O.K., just to see where it had happened, and how.
On the road I told my friend, “We have to be careful; there may be a second suicide attack by a bomber lurking, and waiting for it to be crowded.” It happens so many times in Baghdad: a second explosion that usually leaves more casualties.
We continued until we reached the place. The first thing I saw was a policeman covering part of a burnt arm on the pavement with a piece of cloth.
A female suicide bomber had blown herself up just five meters from the restaurant where I dined the day before with my colleague.
Again, thank God. At least until now, I am lucky and safe.
But the question is, what if … God forbid.