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Will it be a bullet to the head or what?

A dentist in Baghdad hopes for a better life and fears the one he's now living.

By DR. MOHAMMED, Washington Post
Published August 19, 2007


BAGHDAD

When will I die? That's the question circling in my head when I awake on Wednesday. I'm sweating, as usual. My muscles ache from another long night of no electricity in weather only slightly cooler than hell.

How will I die? Will it be a shot in the head? Will I be blown to pieces? Or be seized at a police checkpoint because of my sect, then tortured and killed and thrown out on the sidewalk?

I gaze at my wife as she sleeps. What will happen to her if I die? Will she be able to identify my body? Will I get a proper burial?

I'm a dentist in my mid-20s, married to an aspiring dentist. My father is a prominent orthopedist who fled Iraq after being threatened by both Sunni radicals in al-Qaida in Iraq (which wanted to recruit him and extorted money for his life when he refused) and Shiite ones in Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army (because he is a Sunni). My father-in-law, who works in the oil ministry, has also been menaced. He will emigrate this month.

My wife and I went to Jordan in 2006, but I couldn't find work. Now we live here as quietly as possible. (I am not using my full name for this piece.)

I walk to my job at a government clinic at the intersection of a Sunni and a Shiite neighborhood. We've had lots of bombings nearby. On my way, I see the hulks of burned-out cars, barbed wire and bullet casings strewn on the ground. Death is in the air.

At the clinic's gate, I greet the guards. (I'm afraid of them; they might be members of a militia. Here in Baghdad, everyone's suspect until proven otherwise.) I sign in and get the bad news: The diesel generator is almost out of fuel. My boss thinks it could be a month or longer before the ministry of health provides more.

I feel bad for the patients, some of whom are really in pain, so I work quickly.

I head home, where, as usual, there is no electricity. In my neighborhood (and most of Baghdad), we depend on ourselves for power. Usually there's someone who owns a large generator and sells other residents eight hours of electricity a day. I pay $120 a month for that; for an additional three hours a day, I use my home generator. That costs me about $150 a month because fuel here is so expensive. Curfew starts at 11 p.m., so many people sleep in their cars until the stations reopen in the morning. This farce has created a booming black market. Over lunch, my wife, who has finished her final exams, tells me how scared, bored and hopeless she feels. How long will we stay in Iraq? she asks. Until one of us dies?

If we leave again, I want to go to a country where we might have a future. I want children, but I won't have any as long as I'm living in Iraq. My children don't deserve to be born here.

We go shopping for food. This is our only entertainment, apart from the Internet. It's so hot. I wish I could wear shorts. But the militias don't allow it. It's too much to ask to be able to wear a goatee or a gold necklace. There's too much that's too much to ask for in Baghdad.

We have fun at the market, but on the way back, a pickup truck drives by with a dead body in the back.

Before dawn Thursday, an explosion rocks our house. I don't go back to sleep.

Many less educated Iraqis think the U.S. military is at the root of every problem, that if the Americans leave, there will be peace. I agree, to a point, that U.S. troops are responsible for some of the trouble, but I don't blame them. I blame the Iraqis who let this happen, who enjoy destruction and death - the sectarian government and the militias. They are the real cause of this tragedy.

The insurgents have achieved nothing that a sane person would consider an achievement. They've made the country impossible to live in; they've terrorized people and taken control of neighborhoods after their residents have fled. All this is an achievement to them: They have been brainwashed by fanatical religious clerics; they have been tempted by the money that flows from Iran and other countries or that they get from kidnapping and crime.

The only losers are honest, patriotic Iraqi people to whom democracy and freedom are just myths. All we want is a normal life.

On Tuesday, my wife gets her grades. She has done well. I'm so happy I vow to live a normal life for one day. I decide to drive my own car and take my wife to a nice lunch at the only good restaurant left. I remove the cover from my car for the first time in a year. And with it, I remove my fear.

Oh, how I've missed my BMW. I drive to the restaurant and feel so happy - and fearful. We arrive safely, although I'm stopped at a police checkpoint and asked about my sect. I have to lie, but luckily I have a neutral name that isn't obviously either Sunni or Shiite. We have a wonderful time at lunch. But much later, after I go to bed, after the neighborhood generator stops, the eternal questions start up again. Will it ever end? When will I die?

Dr. Mohammed writes the blog Last of Iraqis at last-of-iraqis.blogspot.com.