Conflict & Justice

Life means constant fear and constant sorrow in Iraq

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Credit: REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

Mourners carry the coffin of their relative, who was killed in an attack in the town of Yusfiya, during a funeral in Najaf, 160 km (100 miles) south of Baghdad, December 17, 2013.

Almost every day a news headline reports some new bombing, death or injury in Iraq. Friday, at least 14 people were killed in five separate attacks across the country.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

One was at a funeral where families had gathered to mourn the death of a loved one. The BBC's Shaimaa Khalil traveled to Iraq to find out what life is like for those living there.

She went to a market in Baghdad that had been bombed twice this year. On the outside, it looked like any other market in the Middle East, she says, but then she met with one of the vegetable sellers, Abu Ali.

He lost three sons in bombings and is still haunted by the loss.

"These young boys were my life and it's been months now since anyone called me dad," he told her. He went on to describe how they were the main bread winners and, now that they're gone, he has trouble paying his rent. He's also taking care of the three grandchildren his sons left behind.

Khalil says Abu Ali's story wasn't unique. While walking in the market, people came up to tell her stories of relatives they had lost.

"People came up to me and said, 'I've lost my cousin, I lost my two brothers, my sister's husband died in a car bombing,'" she recalls.

Khalil says Iraqis feel they've been forgotten. Some believed other conflicts in the region, such as Syria and Egypt, have turned the world's attention away.

Khalil also met with a young couple who recently got married. Their families are half Sunnis and half Shia. The young wife, Shahed, told Khalil that when growing up, she didn't feel the Shia-Sunni divide. It was never an issue, until 2003, when her father was killed while going to a Sunni mosque in a Shia area. That's when she realized the extent of the problem.

Now Shahed has five different ID cards to help hide her identilty. One doesn't show her name, another gives a different one — all because she didn't want to be found out as a Sunni or Shia.

When asked if life was better during or after the US invasion, Shahed said today life is "definitely worse."

"She said the presence of the American troops almost had a balancing effect on the security because they were in control of the Shia and Sunni," Khalil says. "Once they were gone, it was as if the guardian was gone."

Iraqis told Khalil they hold their politicians responsible for the sectarian divide in their country. They said if they realized that only through unity, and not sectarianism, the country could move forward, things would be much different.

But they also see the war in Syria as another factor adding to the bloodshed in Iraq.

With all the difficulties that Iraqis are going through, life still does go on.

It never becomes normal, one family told Khalil, but you have to live through it. If you let it get to you, you would never leave the house.

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