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Heavenly night in Baghdad ends abruptly

January 01, 2008|Mohammed Rasheed | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — "It's safe! You can go out, even at night!"

I've been hearing this over and over for the last three months, since violence started to drop in Baghdad. So last week, I told three of my Iraqi colleagues at the Los Angeles Times, "Let's go out and have dinner!"

It had been almost two years since we had ventured out after dark. So we decided to play it safe and chose a restaurant about 10 minutes from our compound.

It was so nice to get out. There were cars and motorcycles and people in the streets. The restaurant wasn't very crowded, but we took a nice table in the garden. It was freezing outside, but even that felt good. It's always too hot inside the compound. We ordered fish and smoked a water pipe. We played music on our cellphones, swapped jokes and enjoyed a delicious meal of grilled chicken.

"Is this heaven?" I wondered -- until a convoy of armored U.S. and Iraqi military trucks rolled by and destroyed that illusion.

But nothing was going to dampen our spirits. After dinner, we didn't want the night to end, so we decided to take a walk before heading home. As we headed down a quiet residential street, I noticed that the same cars were driving past us every few minutes. One of them, a BMW, slowed and the five men inside took a good look at us. My heart started to pound, and a hard lump formed in my stomach. Visions of being stuffed into their trunk raced through my head.

But I told myself it would be fine. Then the same car drove past us again, did a U-turn and started racing back toward us. I told the guys that it was time to get out of there. Luckily, we were just a few yards from the compound, though it felt like miles.

Just as the car caught up with us, we ducked behind the blast wall that surrounds where we live. I've always hated that ugly concrete barrier, but this time I actually hugged and kissed it. I was so happy to be back in our lovely jail.

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