No One Dares to Help
The wounded die alone on Baghdad's streets. An offer of aid
could be your own death sentence, an Iraqi reporter writes.
Because this account of daily life in Baghdad reveals where
the writer lives, his name is not being used to protect his
safety. He is a 54-year-old Iraqi reporter in The Times' Baghdad
Angeles Times" -- -- BAGHDAD — On a recent
Sunday, I was buying groceries in my beloved Amariya
neighborhood in western Baghdad when I heard the sound of an
AK-47 for about three seconds. It was close but not very close,
so I continued shopping.
As I took a right turn on Munadhama Street, I saw a man lying on
the ground in a small pool of blood. He wasn't dead.
The idea of stopping to help or to take him to a hospital
crossed my mind, but I didn't dare. Cars passed without
stopping. Pedestrians and shop owners kept doing what they were
doing, pretending nothing had happened.
I was still looking at the wounded man and blaming myself for
not stopping to help. Other shoppers peered at him from a
distance, sorrowful and compassionate, but did nothing.
I went on to another grocery store, staying for about five
minutes while shopping for tomatoes, onions and other
vegetables. During that time, the man managed to sit up and wave
to passing cars. No one stopped. Then, a white Volkswagen pulled
up. A passenger stepped out with a gun, walked steadily to the
wounded man and shot him three times. The car took off down a
side road and vanished.
No one did anything. No one lifted a finger. The only reaction
came from a woman in the grocery store. In a low voice, she
said, "My God, bless his soul."
I went home and didn't dare tell my wife. I did not want to
I've lived in my neighborhood for 25 years. My daughters went to
kindergarten and elementary school here. I'm a Christian. My
neighbors are mostly Sunni Arabs. We had always lived in
harmony. Before the U.S.-led invasion, we would visit for tea
and a chat. On summer afternoons, we would meet on the corner to
joke and talk politics.
It used to be a nice upper-middle-class neighborhood, bustling
with commerce and traffic. On the main street, ice cream
parlors, hamburger stands and take-away restaurants competed for
space. We would rent videos and buy household appliances.
Until 2005, we were mostly unaffected by violence. We would hear
shootings and explosions now and again, but compared with other
places in Baghdad, it was relatively peaceful.
Then, late in 2005, someone blew up three supermarkets in the
area. Shops started closing. Most of the small number of Shiite
Muslim families moved out. The commercial street became a ghost
On Christmas Day last year, we visited — as always — our local
church, St. Thomas, in Mansour. It was half-empty. Some members
of the congregation had left the country; others feared coming
to church after a series of attacks against Christians.
American troops, who patrol the neighborhood in Humvees, have
also become edgy. Get too close, and they'll shoot. A colleague
— an interpreter and physician — was shot and killed by soldiers
last year on his way home from a shopping trip. He hadn't
noticed the Humvees parked on the street.
By early this year, living in my neighborhood had become a
nightmare. In addition to anti-American graffiti, there were
fliers telling women to wear conservative clothes and to cover
their hair. Men were told not to wear shorts or jeans.
For me, as a Christian, it was unacceptable that someone would
tell my wife and daughters what to wear. What's the use of
freedom if someone is telling you what to wear, how to behave or
what to do in your life?
But coming home one day, I saw my wife on the street. I didn't
recognize her. She had covered up.
After the attack on the Shiite shrine of the Golden Dome in
Samarra in February, Shiite gunmen tried to raid Sunni mosques
in my neighborhood. One night, against the backdrop of heavy
shooting, we heard the cleric calling for help through the
mosque's loudspeakers. We stayed up all night, listening as they
battled for the mosque. It made me feel unsafe. If a Muslim
would shoot another Muslim, what would they do to a Christian?
Fear dictates everything we do.
I see my neighbors less and less. When I go out, I say hello and
that's it. I fear someone will ask questions about my job
working for Americans, which could put me in danger. Even if he
had no ill will toward me, he might talk and reveal an
identifying detail. We're afraid of an enemy among us. Someone
we don't know. It's a cancer.
In March, assassinations started in our neighborhood. Early one
evening, I was sitting in my garden with my wife when we heard
several gunshots. I rushed to the gate to see what was going on,
despite my wife's pleas to stay inside. My neighbors told me
that gunmen had dropped three men from a car and shot them in
the street before driving off. No one dared approach the victims
to find out who they were.
The bodies remained there until the next morning. The police or
the American military probably picked them up, but I don't know.
They simply disappeared.
The sounds of shootings and explosions are now commonplace. We
don't know who is shooting whom, or who has been targeted. We
don't know why, and we're afraid to ask or help. We too could
get shot. Bringing someone to the hospital or to the police is
out of the question. Nobody trusts the police, and nobody wants
to answer questions.
I feel sad, bitter and frustrated — sad because a human life is
now worth nothing in this country; bitter because people no
longer help each other; and frustrated because I can't help
either. If I'm targeted one day, I'm sure no one will help me.
I was very happy when my eldest daughter married an American.
First, because there was love between them, but also because she
would be able to leave Iraq, and I wouldn't have to worry about
her safety day after day. She left last year.
If you had asked me a year ago whether I would consider leaving
Iraq, I would have said maybe, but without enthusiasm. Now it's
a definite yes. Things are going from bad to worse, and I can't
see any light at the end of the tunnel.
Four weeks ago, I came home from work. As I reached my street, I
saw a man lying in a pool of blood. Someone had covered him with
bits of cardboard. This was the best they could do. No one dared
I drove on.
Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times
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