W.G. Dunlop, AFP
Last updated: 17 October, 2012

Deadly Baghdad blast leaves survivors struggling

The car bomb ripped through a row of shopfronts on a square in central Baghdad, shattering windows, setting cars ablaze and sending heavy sheets of dark grey smoke billowing into the air.

The immediate aftermath of the blast at Al-Andalus Square was captured in a shaky mobile phone video, while another from a few days later showed piles of rubble strewn in the street and a black banner bearing the name Hassan Jawwad Zaghayir hanging in front of the wrecked shop where he was mortally wounded.

The explosion was one of a pair of car bombs that killed at least 12 people in central Baghdad on July 31 — just some of the more than 100 attacks that month.

Stores that were smashed by the blast have now been repaired and shiny new plate glass windows installed.

The bustling, newly-refinished shops at the site of the attack — some of them staffed by people present on the day of the explosion — indicate both the ability of Iraqis to rebuild after attacks, and that most people in Iraq have no option but to get on with their lives, despite the danger.

But while the shops are fixed and the scorched building that houses them painted over, the damage to people impacted by the bombing is harder to repair, especially when another attack could occur at any time.

“We are more afraid now,” Hikmet, one of Hassan’s brothers, said at a table in his family’s falafel shop at the square. “Now, if a car stops here, I am suspicious of it.”

Shrapnel from the bombing tore into Hassan just in front of the shop, which was wrecked by the explosion but has since been repaired.

Hikmet was inside the shop when the bomb exploded, but was behind a counter that shielded him from the blast.

Another brother, Alaa, said he called Hassan to tell him to leave on the day of the attack, after a bomb went off elsewhere in Baghdad. But it was too late — there was another explosion, and the line cut.

“Whenever I go anywhere, I feel fear and worry that an explosion may happen,” said Alaa, who was at home not far from the shop when the bomb exploded.

Hassan, 28, was a kind man who empathised with others, Alaa said, noting that he brought flowers to Our Lady of Salvation church and lit a candle there after militants killed 44 worshippers, two priests and seven security forces members at the church in 2010.

Hassan’s death has had a devastating impact on the family, especially his parents, who have been hard-hit by the loss and are frequently in tears, Alaa said.

Family jewellery had to be sold to pay for Hassan’s funeral and repairs to the shop, which was reopened not long after he was killed due to financial necessity.

Violence in Iraq is down significantly from its peak in 2006 and 2007, when waves of bombings and death squad killings often left well over 1,000 people dead per month.

The raging violence was brought under a semblance of control after Sunni tribesmen turned against insurgents and the United States sent a “surge” of thousands of additional troops, but attacks still kill hundreds of people per month, and the level of violence is not falling.

Roadside bombs, car bombs and small magnetic “sticky bombs” that are surreptitiously attached to cars explode in cities and towns around Iraq, and militants strike with weapons ranging from knives to rocket-propelled grenades.

Officials including high-ranking officers are gunned down in the streets, bombs tear through markets, and even heavily-guarded sites such as military bases, police stations and prisons are attacked.

This is the world in which many Iraqis live.

But people go on living their lives despite the danger — they go to work, to shops and mosques, relax in restaurants and cafes and pack Baghdad’s streets with cars, sometimes on the same day an attack occurs.

For the majority of Iraqis, who cannot leave the country, there is no other choice.

Salah Kamil Obaisan, who was working in a different shop at Al-Andalus Square on the day of the blast, said Hassan was suspicious of the car that later killed him, and tried to clear people out of the area.

He tried to help Hassan, who was badly wounded by shrapnel from the car bomb and also burned, but he died of his wounds after being taken to a hospital.

Salah, who saw other wounded and dead people at the scene of the attack as well as a number of burning vehicles, said he decided not to work in the area because the place reminded him of his friend Hassan.

But financial need drew the married father-of-three back.

He now works in the shop owned by Hassan’s family, making just 15,000 Iraqi dinars (about $12.5) per day — not much, but more than he said he would earn in Babil province, where his family lives.

Salah is acutely aware of the possibility of another attack: “The first thing in the morning, I say, this day, I won’t live. Why won’t I live? Because I’m in danger — maybe a car will come and I will die.”

“I feel the danger, but I want to take care of my family,” he said. “I worry about them more than I worry about myself; the soul is there and the body is here.”