Monday, May 22, 2006

An Iraqi Mother's Most Dreaded Mission

Search for Missing Son in Baghdad Only Adds to Loss and Uncertainty

Six p.m., and 27-year-old Riyah Obeid hadn't come home. Fahdriya Obeid kept watching, waiting for the dark silhouette of her eldest son to loom in the doorway of the simple home he and his brother had built with her out of bricks.

Daylight came, spilling into the single room where she slept alongside her youngest son, Saffah. There was still no sight or word of Riyah, and Baghdad under curfew, under control of armed militiamen rolling through the streets at dark, wasn't a place where young men -- especially poor ones -- stayed out all night. There were anxious consultations with 23-year-old Saffah, then with Fahdriya's brothers. Calls went out over the telephone of a helpful neighbor to family members across Baghdad.

Riyah had set out the day before, May 11, on an unavoidable errand: replacing his lost ID card. The law required Riyah to do it where he was born, in Sadr City, a busy but impoverished quarter of Baghdad where 2 million Shiites and a relative handful of Sunnis live. Now, in her neighbor's house, clutching the telephone, 50-year-old Fahdriya made arrangements to go to Sadr City with Saffah and meet relatives at the home of one of the boys' cousins to start looking for Riyah.

Searching for missing loved ones has become a common mission -- especially for Sunni families -- in Baghdad in recent months as sectarian violence has surged. Fahdriya and family members agreed to let a reporter accompany them for parts of their search. Other events were recounted in interviews....

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