The al-Mashadani family: living in terror and fighting to survive

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The Independent Online

The overthrow of Saddam Hussein has led to many reversals of fortune even within the same family. The al-Mashadani family are middle class Sunni Arabs who live in the Hurriya district of west Baghdad. Fifteen years ago Mohammed and his sister Ban had each achieved modest prosperity.

Mohammed was a captain in the elite Republican Guard proud of his uniform and his car, a considerably grander vehicle than anything driven by his neighbours. With the fall of the old regime in 2003 this 37-year-old man lost his job and went to live with his mother Selma.

For a year-and-a-half nothing happened to him. Then in the summer of 2004 a teenage boy in his street was questioned by several bearded men in a car. The boy caught a glimpse of several Kalashnikov assault rifles they were hiding. The men asked him about a Captain Mohammed but did not know his exact address.

"The boy was clever," said a relative of Mohammed. "He said he knew nothing and then went home. He telephoned Selma's house and told them what had happened. The boy said he thought the men were from the Badr Organisation, (the aggressive militia of the Shia religious party the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI).) He said: "I suspect they are going to kill or arrest Mohammed."

Mohammed and his family were terrified. He fled to Syria and stayed there a month and a half. But he left behind his wife, four daughters and two sons. After six weeks he called from Damascus to say: "I miss my children too much. I am coming home even if they kill me."

The rest of the family thought this was dangerous for all of them. If Badr did not find Mohammed they might shoot or arrest his brothers. They rented out their house in Hurriyah and moved to another in Dohra, a tough mostly Sunni district in south Baghdad. Mohammed is safer but still has no job but plans to move to Syria with his wife and children if SCIRI win the election on 15 December.

Ban, Mohammed's sister, is three years younger than him. She is a teacher but her career has not been easy. She started teaching in Fallujah in 1989 and then worked successively in Abu Ghraib and Baghdad. As the Iraqi economy collapsed under the impact of UN sanctions in the 1990s her nominal salary fell to 3,000 Iraqi dinars a month or about $2,20.

She explains: "Nobody could survive on this. What most of the teachers did was to insist that our students attend special study classes for which they had to pay us." Ban did not want to do this and stopped teaching in 1999 to work as a receptionist in a doctor's office.

One of the few sensible acts of the US occupation in its first years was to increase the salaries of people who worked for the government. The new salary at the school she had left was a hundred times the old one or about $220. But the problem for Ban was that this led to a flood of applications from former teachers who had abandoned the profession.

Priority was given to teachers whose relatives had been executed by Saddam Hussein. But Ban had a friend in the Ministry of Education. He promised to get her name back on the list of teachers to be employed in return for $500. She agreed but said she would pay the money to him only after she was back in her old job for a week.

Soon she saw her name in the paper as one of 3,400 former teachers to be re-employed. Today she is extremely happy especially as her influential friend in the ministry reduced his price to only $300 as a special favour.