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Grief Becomes Daily Part of Baghdad Life

March 31, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ A recorded recital of Quranic verses, sung in a deep and melancholy voice, blared from loud speakers. Women in black chadors shrieked in grief. A 13-year-old boy wept, lamenting his three lost brothers.

In Baghdad, where the U.S.-led air attack began March 20, the mourning has become as constant as the round-the-clock explosions that rattle the city. Each squeal of the city’s air raid sirens heralds possible misery for the city’s 5 million residents, despite stated U.S. efforts to keep down civilian casualties.

Murtada Ghafel Jassim, an eighth grader, cannot forget his three dead brothers _ even when he sleeps.

``I dream of them,″ said the weeping teen, embarrassed over his tears Monday in front of older relatives and a visitor.

His brothers Ali, 20, Hussein, 18, and Mohammed, 12, were among more than 60 people _ including many women and children _ killed Friday in a working-class section of northwest Baghdad, Iraqi officials said. Another 50 were reported injured.

Two days earlier, 14 people were killed and 30 injured in another densely populated section of Baghdad, allegedly by a U.S. missile.

Black banners drape homes where a loved one has been lost, dark reminders of the war’s deadly toll.

Murtada wept intensely as he recalled carrying Hussein and Mohammed to the cars of volunteers, who ferried the mortally wounded boys to a hospital. Squatting on the floor of his uncle’s house, less than 20 yards from the spot where the rocket landed, he spoke reluctantly, with suppressed anger at times.

``My brothers have been dealt an injustice,″ said Murtada, who had open heart surgery last year. ``My life is now empty.″

Friday’s attack in the crowded al-Nasr market in al-Shoala, was swiftly decried by Iraqi officials. For grief-stricken family members, it was more personal.

Across from the family home, Murtada’s father, Ghafel Jassim, received condolences from relatives, friends and neighbors at a tent erected so male relatives of the dead can receive support from other men.

``Mercy be on those who read the opening verse of the Quran,″ the men said upon arrival, where mourners murmured the short verse known as ``fatha.″

A recorded recital of Quranic verses sounded from a loudspeaker as the men sipped tea and smoked. Two dozen goats stopped outside to munch on a heap of fetid rubbish.

Nobody flinched when loud bursts of gunfire echoed across the sky above. The sound of the artillery competed with the shrieks of grief echoing down the streets from women gathering at the victims’ homes.

``This has been decreed by God,″ said Ghafel Jassim, 70, a retired railway worker, with the resignation that many Muslims say comes with strong faith. ``What can we do? This is our fate.″

The Iraqi government’s claim that the attacks were a deliberate attempt to break the population’s will rang true with some residents.

``They are deliberately targeting the people of Iraq,″ said Naama Ali, a 60-year-old veteran of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.

During his time in the armed forces _ five years and eight days, he says proudly _ ``we have always been told not to harm women, children and the elderly and never destroy a house or fell a tree.″

The allies have acknowledged they could not rule out that malfunctioning missiles might be responsible for some bombings in residential areas. The U.S. Central Command has denied targeting civilian neighborhoods.

Some questioned how such tragedy could aid either side.

``The loss of all these lives was pointless,″ said Abdul-Razaq Jabar, imam of a nearby mosque for Shiite Muslims. ``Their deaths did not benefit America nor Iraq. This is an unjustified war.″

Jabar lost four relatives in the bombing.

``If they want a change in the regime,″ he said, ``that’s certainly not the way to do it.″

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