Living

Behind Iraqi walls plastered with promises, tragic stories

BAQOUBA, Iraq — Every wall that surrounds the homes of potential voters in Diyala province is covered in posters promising change and hope, but behind them there are likely to be tragic stories of loss.

Badriya Waleh Habab, 62, lives in a low-slung home, barren except for a carpet on the concrete floor and two wooden benches. The Shiite Muslim woman is alone. Her first son was killed in the eight-year war with Iran in the 1980s. Her husband died four years ago, and masked gunmen from al Qaida in Iraq dragged her last son, Mohammed, from her home in 2006 as he was eating dinner.

She kissed the gunmen's feet and begged them to leave her only son. They took him away anyway, and now she has no one left.

He'd be 22 now, and she carries his national identification card in a crumpled plastic bag. Since he was taken, she's searched for him in morgues from Baghdad to Diyala, and when she hears that a body was dumped in the streets of Baqouba or Baghdad, she goes to check whether it's her son's.

"This was my mission, to search among the dead," she said.

During the day, she sits outside the cinder-block wall of her home across from the soccer fields and talks to her neighbors. At night, she goes inside, cooks for herself and goes to sleep with her son's ID card next to her heart.

"What's left to preserve?" she asked. Her home is empty, twice looted of everything she owned. Its gray walls are graced with a prayer and the names of God, his Prophet Muhammad and the prophet's son-in-law Ali.

"I was afraid, and I'm still afraid," she said. "I don't care for any of this. Democracy is important to me? I have nothing left. I'm sitting here waiting for God to reclaim my soul."

Then she stopped, looked down and said three words over and over again:

"I want peace."

(Special correspondent Mohammed al Dulaimy contributed to this article.)

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