04/26/2004, 00.00
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Living in a state of war: the story of a Christian family

by Pierre Balanian
"The abductors are foreigners. No Iraqi would take them hostage or kill them."

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Abductions of foreigners in Iraq are the work of  "non-Iraqi criminal rings". Kidnappings (by Iraqis) are often done for reasons of extortion. How many wealthy Iraqis have been abducted, but then released once the ransom was paid!," says Muayed Hayat Shlimon,.    

He is sure that this is the case. Muayed, a 41 year-old Chaldean Catholic born and raised in Baghdad, spends most of his day speaking with people while working as transporter. He says he views the killing of hostages as confirmation that foreigners are involved.    

"Personally I, like so many other Muslim Iraqis with whom I've had conversations about the killing of hostages, am disappointed and scandalized. It's impossible that such killings were done by Iraqis."  

When interviewed by telephone Muayed Hayat Shlimon told AsiaNews about his everyday life in Baghdad.   

Muayed is married with 3 children ages 10, 7 and six months. He shares a home with his brother Samir, who is also married and has 4 children. The Shlimons believe they are more fortunate than others. Unlike many other drivers, Muayed owns his own van. After years of work "everyone knows him" and, thus, Muayed says he always has enough work. Meanwhile many others "who worked for the state or were employed in businesses still have trouble finding work."

Muayed is a simple person: he heads out for work at 6.30 in the morning and returns home at 6.30 in the evening, since it's "dangerous to stay out there in the dark," he says.

 "Once we used to go out to dinner or simply visit our friends and relatives in the evening. But now such a lifestyle is no longer possible," he said.

 "We talk to each other on the phone "as if we didn't live in the same country," he told AsiaNews. Muayed said that life in the post-Hussein Iraq is full of "uncertainty and fear".

"I served in Saddam Hussein's army –I was forced to –during a 11-year term in the national guard. Back then we used to say: 'Go to the frontlines and you never know if you'll make it back alive', he said.  "Now every time I leave home I wave goodbye to my family as it were the last time I see them."    

The fear Iraqis have is that of being caught amid bombs, and explosions, criss-crossing sniper fire which can erupt at a moment's notice. Like all Iraqis, the Shlimons are afraid to send their children to school by themselves. "Luckily it's nearby. In the end children get  kidnapped anyway. We can't even let them play in front of our own home like in old days," Muayed says.    

And yet life goes on. Compared to a few months ago, Muayed says "we now have electricity, potable water and can fill our natural gas tanks. Sure, we don't eat chicken or meat every day, but the shops and markets are filled with everything (you need)."

Muayed's wife never leaves home –not out of tradition, but out of fear. Hence her husband must do the shopping since, as he says, "why should both of us have to risk our lives? I have to be outside for work, anyway."

A new phenomenon is that of "medicines sold at market stands, which are often expired because they were stolen a year ago from warehouses during all the chaos. Or they're no good anymore, since they were left outside to sit in the sun (for too long)," Muayed explains.

Muayed is certain that, in terms of the country's many religions living together and getting along, "We all feel like Iraqis in the end. Us Chaldean Catholics have an excellent relationship with Sunni and Shiite (Muslims).

 "We have a high opinion of and respect for one another. We were all raised together," he said.  Once upon a time, Muayed says, "they called us 'crusaders'. Now, for them, the crusaders are the foreigners. We can pray out in the open and we have no fears at all in this sense."  

Muayed, whose name in Arabic means "supporter", made an appeal to the world at the end of the interview: "Have mercy on our people. After years of suffering and war, we want our own government. Yet foreign troops must leave only after having guaranteed the nation's security. Until now little has been done to ensure the safety of civilians. There are still many weapons in circulation, stolen and left behind by the former regime. No one has taken the trouble to collect and confiscate them."

Muayed denied rumors about Iraqi Christians leaving the country. "On the contrary, many Christians are returning from abroad. This is our homeland. We are Iraqis and we get on well with Muslims. We are here to stay."

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