Layla did not want to leave Baghdad. She remained in Iraq with her family in
the years of the war against Iran, under the American bombs in 1991 and during
the thirteen years of embargo which made the country poor and the society corrupt.
Layla did not even leave the country during the 2003 war, when she was newly-wed
and pregnant. After Saddam’s downfall, she hoped that her country could enjoy
some economic welfare with the Americans’ help, although both the occupiers’ behaviour
and the rebels’ violence soon shattered her hopes.
A long story.
In 2004 and 2005, she did not lose hope and did not want to leave her country
even though she was forced to stay at home because of the daily gunfights and
car bombs. But things changed after the attack to the Samarra mosque on February
22, 2006 which started the religious feud and, therefore, the civil war. Her husband
and she received threats and they were forced to leave. Layla was a Sunni, Ali
was a Shia and there was not a single area in Baghdad were they could be safe.
Surely not in Ghazalyah, in the West suburbs of the capital, where they had always
lived, near her parents. That area had been controlled by a Sunni fundamentalist
militia for a long time and leaflets were handed out ordering the Shias to flee
within 48 hours or they would have been killed. There was no way out for Layla
and her husband and they set off for Amman. Ali is a structural engineer and an
experienced project leader and has been looking for a job for almost a year in
Jordan, but getting a job has become impossible for refugees there, especially
since an attack of Iraqi origin blew up Radissan Hotel in November 2005 in Amman.
At the moment Layla and Ali are using up their savings and then they will be perhaps
forced to go back to Iraq where they know the risk of being killed is high. Or
of being kidnapped, which is what happened to Layla’s brother-in-law, her sister
Muna’s husband. Muna had not left Baghdad to give birth to her second child, but,
on the day before her admission to hospital for a Caesarean delivery, her husband
went into the yard to start the generator (because of the frequent power cuts
in Baghdad) and he never came back. Neighbours told Muna that four men had pushed
her husband into a car by force and had driven away at high speed. A few days
later a ransom of $100,000 was asked, a sum of money that no middle class Iraqi,
not even a trader like he is, could have paid. After long negotiations, the request
was cut by half, all relatives scraped together the money and gave it to the kidnappers.
The man was released after a month and he knows he was lucky for that: his kidnappers
openly told him that they would have killed him after grabbing the money if he
had not been a Shia like them. This is what happened to many neighbours or acquaintances
of Layla’s, missing after a ransom of $ 60,000 or $ 70,000 was paid, and this
in a country were kidnappings have become the first source of financing for both
Sunni and Shia guerrilla.
Refugees on the run.
Now Muna, her husband and their children are in Amman, swelling the ranks of
the Iraqi refugees who will not be able to find a job, although they are looking
for any occupation which may allow them to provide for their family or, in this
case, to give back the money borrowed from their relatives to pay the ransom.
Layla and Muna’s parents have tried to flee from Iraq with their younger son,
in his early twenties, in the attempt to protect him from warring factions. In
fact, the militia of both the same religious group and of the opposing one are
looking for young men. The former to force the young men to join the guerrilla,
the latter to eliminate them before they are recruited by their enemies.
The whole family was held up at the border and found out that the Jordanian Government
had taken the decision to forbid the entrance in the country of Iraqi men between
the age of 18 and 35. The three of them had to go back to Baghdad and only a few
months later the boy was able to cross the border after showing he was enrolled
in the Amman University. His parents are still in Baghdad where they both teach
at the local University, the weekly target of terrorists who are determined to
prevent people from studying and from learning to reject their distorted cultural
model. They both long for retirement. They still live in Ghazalyah and seldom
venture to pay a visit to one of her sisters, Hiba, living in Arassat El Hindya,
a mixed area in the city centre, once mainly inhabited by Christians whose greater
part has now fled abroad. Hiba, who is a Sunni, has received threats from the
Shias in the nearby area of Jadryah. They mean to put Arassat El Hindya under
their influence, an area which, only a few years ago, was well-known for its wealth
and openness towards Western countries with its shops selling tight-fitting clothes
and its restaurants with European names. Nowadays all restaurants are closed and
women do not dare go out without their veil.