Ammar Karim, AFP
Last updated: 23 July, 2012

In Iraq’s Taji, lives torn apart by brutal attacks

As 11-year-old Mohammed sat on the ruins of what was, until a few hours ago, his home, his father frantically searched for shelter to protect them from Iraq’s boiling summer.

It is almost a miracle Mohammed and his parents are alive at all, after a car bomb detonated just metres from their house in the town of Taji, 25 kilometres (15 miles) north of Baghdad.

They were among the residents hastily evacuated from their homes when police concluded that a suspicious car in their neighbourhood was, in fact, packed with explosives.

But while they were spared, their home, built 50 years ago, was not.

“My father went one way, and my mother went the other to search for shelter,” said the youth with a towel draped over his head and sweat pouring down his face.

“I have to stay here and guard what is left of our house until they come back.”

Their city, and specifically their neighbourhood, was one of the worst affected by the wave of attacks across Iraq, with 111 people having died in dozens of bombings and shootings nationwide.

Of the victims, 42 died in a series of explosions, including the one against Mohammed’s home, in Taji. Among the victims were those killed by a suicide bomber who targeted emergency responders.

Mohammed’s home was levelled in the blast, and most of his family’s possessions now lie beneath the rubble that is left.

“I was sleeping, and my parents lifted me out of bed,” he recalled.

“They were shouting, ‘Get up quickly! Help your younger brothers! There is a car bomb!'”

In between looking through the ruins for his brothers’ toys, he said: “I carried my younger sister, she is four years old, and I saw all the people running away from the car.”

“It felt like it was just a few moments later when it exploded, and there was a big ball of fire, and the wreckage was falling over our heads.”

“It was terrifying, my younger brothers were screaming because they were scared — we woke them up from their sleep and then they were watching this terrible scene, which was accompanied by a terrible sound we have never heard before.”

There were other non-fatal, but still tragic, impacts of the attack.

Electricity wires were completely severed, cutting off even the meagre handful of hours of electricity the neighbourhood received from the national grid, and the main water pipe was broken.

The communal generator that filled the gaps where government power fell short was also damaged, and now the neighbourhood must make do, in temperatures that top 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit), just as the holy month of Ramadan begins, and Muslims are obliged to fast from dawn till dusk.

Even in those conditions, Mohammed said he would much rather stay than move to a new, strange place.

“I was born here, and I grew up here,” he said. “My friends and my school are here. I do not want to move somewhere else, but this explosion has forced us to do that.”

Residents told AFP that the car bomb detonated when residents were attempting to escape, and among the victims was an elderly woman carrying a newborn baby, and the same policeman who had concluded that the vehicle contained explosives.

A row of houses, Mohammed’s among them, were completely destroyed, and residents were rummaging through the debris in search of victims and their belongings.

Mohammed’s family was not the only one whose lives were torn apart by the attack.

“Where shall we go?” asked a women who identified herself as Umm Ali, or mother of Ali. “We do not have money to rent another house, and we do not have the money to rebuild our home.”

Evidently tired from the heat and the daily fast, she added forlornly: “All we can do is sit, and wait for the mercy of God.”