BAGHDAD: In this torrid Baghdad summer, Karim Kadim, his wife and five children have been sleeping in their living room, where the air conditioning works best and often muffles noise from the street. But nothing could drown out the thunderclap that roused the family about 5:45 am Thursday.
Even Kadim’s son Hussein, who takes out his hearing aid when he goes to bed, was awakened by the explosion. Kadim, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer for The Associated Press, raced to the roof to see what had happened. AP video cameraman Ali Abdul-Hassan Jabbar, who lives nearby, called to say that the explosion was at the Jameela Market – his own three children had been thrown from their beds by the blast. So Kadim threw on some clothes and raced for the door with his camera, as he has done so many times before.
“Baba, please don’t go! Baba, please don’t go!” cried his 3-year-old son, Abbas. “Even the little ones understand the dangers,” Kadim said. Kadim and Jabbar both live not far from the market in Sadr City, where – for more than a decade – the comforts of home have been intertwined with horrors. Jameela Market is what might be described as a farmers’ market. Every day, vendors in narrow wooden stalls compete for customers, bargaining over the prices of fresh fruits and vegetables, live chickens and more. On Thursdays, it is particularly crowded with people coming in from nearby provinces to stock up on items they can’t get back home.
‘Panicked and crazy’
A truck bomb went off there shortly after dawn – killing at least 67 people, leveling most of the market and sending shock waves throughout the city. Jabbar, 32, got to the market first, even before the ambulances arrived. “I got there so soon that people were still so panicked and crazy,” he recalled. “This guy’s brother was dead; that person’s father … So everyone was very panicked and aggravated. So they came and started to push me around and yell at me, grabbing from the collar of my shirt, pushing me left and right, trying to get me to leave.”
“There were stores burning. The people were completely mad. Everyone thinks ‘our livelihood is gone, our civility is gone.’ So they act crazy,” he said. Known as Saddam City before the 2003 US-led invasion, Sadr City is home to some 3 million people, the vast majority of them Shiite Muslims and most of them middle class. “It has academics, athletes, soldiers, businessmen, workers,” Kadim said.
The district saw some of the most brutal warfare in the earliest days of the war. In 2004, coalition troops engaged in bloody battles there. Since then, buildings in the district suffer from significant structural problems, and many remain pockmarked with bullet holes to this day.
In 2006, more than 200 people were killed in an attack in Sadr City after a series of car bombs and mortar attacks ripped through a Shiite slum, prompting the government to implement a 24-hour curfew. Jabbar suffered an eye injury covering that explosion: “I had to go for surgery and I have been wearing eyeglasses ever since. So of course, I feel fear whenever I’m there because anything can happen.”
To Kadim, the “dark days” were all too commonplace during that time. “It wasn’t just explosions,” he said. “There were rockets. There were kidnappings.” Said Jabbar: “In the days of the civil war, we’d have an average of three to four explosions in Sadr City per day.” Though the hazards are far less than they were then, dangers remain. “I went to film a bombing just two days ago,” Jabbar said. “Yes, it happens a lot. This one was very bad, but it happens a lot. But if you ask me if we get used to it, I’ll tell you no. Who can get used to this? ”
He often thinks of sending his family away, outside the country. “The situation here is exhausting,” he said. “There’s no stability. … Whenever we feel we are taking steps forward, something like this happens and it feels like the whole world is turning upside down again.” “We are living in a state of fear,” Kadim said. “We are never comfortable.” – AP