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A narrow escape from deadly blast

June 22, 2008|Usama Redha | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — When the minibus neared Hurriya, my neighborhood, the door jammed. The driver had to stop twice to fix it.

We passed the Iraqi army checkpoint without delay. The driver was rushing to make up for lost time. The bus terminal loomed ahead of us. I turned my head to gaze at the appliances and clothes in the shops.

The evening sun had receded behind the buildings and the street was alive with women and children shopping.

On my way home from work, I always walk from the bus terminal past the vegetable and fruit vendors and shish kebab restaurants in the market, not just to shop, but to chat a few minutes with some of the sellers who are my childhood friends.

Suddenly, BOOM! A huge explosion shook the bus.

Although Baghdad is more peaceful today than it has been at any time since 2004, its residents still face the possibility of random death daily. On Tuesday, a jammed bus door saved me.

My daily chat that would have ended with a joke and a smile was replaced by tears and sorrow.

The driver swerved the minibus. We saw a huge ball of dust and black smoke rise from the bus terminal.

People were running to see what was going on and to help the injured.

I called my wife to tell her that I was OK, and then called the office to report the news.

My heart was pounding as each step took me closer to the scene. Through the heavy smoke I could see the human flesh. The faceless, burned body of a woman and others were scattered here and there. They were lucky that they were at peace, I told myself. The injured lay on the ground in suffering. I thanked God because I could have been one of them.

It was just three minutes between death and life. I was trying to cover the story, but something fixed my legs to the ground. At first I felt afraid to go closer, afraid there could be another explosion.

But then I saw people I knew screaming about loved ones. I knew then that my friends had been killed. I had lost two dear friends, their lives turned to digits in the casualty count of at least 63.

I passed the scene three days later. There were candles with flowers here and there. I approached a charred spot that had been a booth. There was a picture and black sign: "The happy martyr Ahmad Salih."

I approached a man who was standing nearby. He was smoking and had an absent-minded look.

"Why have people put the flowers and candles here?" I asked.

He looked at me, and said in a depressed tone, "These candles and flowers are for the ones whose bodies were not found."

The man spoke again more sadly.

"Look to the top of the building. There, people found the head of a child. He is my grandson."

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