Vacation a drag in war zone

Summer vacation in Baghdad is boring. It's dangerous. It's 127 degrees outside, and there is nothing to do. It is getting to the point where reasonable people wish school would start again.

“There's nothing to do but sit around,” said Tiba Mohammed, a 13-year-old going into the ninth grade. She's one of Iraq's 5.5 million school-age children, midway through a break that began in June and will last until the end of Ramadan in early October.

“It's not so nice,” said Ghaith Nimia, a 15-year-old boy entering the eighth grade. “If I could go out with my friends, wherever we go together, we could have fun.”

“There are only two places where we can play,” said Hassan Kareem, 15. “I think my parents are too strict.”

“They're afraid for our safety,” said his brother, Murtatha, 14. “They're afraid because of the explosions.”

Iraq's parents have worried through five years of war. They still worry although life here is nowhere near as dangerous as it was in 2006 and 2007. Then, the daily body count sometimes topped a hundred. Now entire days pass without the discovery of a single corpse.

“We cannot keep them just as before and just forget about them,” said Jassim Mohammed, Tiba's father. Tiba has a 17-year-old sister, Nativa, and an 11-year-old brother, Hassan. “They have to be under our eyes now.”

Ghaith hasn't left his neighborhood in months. His summer is turning out to be pretty crummy.

“If he wants to play football, he can play until all hours in front of the house, but nowhere else,” said Ghaith's mother, Eman. “There's a park just down the road – very nice – but I don't feel happy with him going there because it is a nice place. I have a dreadful feeling it will be targeted.”

It would be better if Ghaith's dad, Thafir, were around. He went to Sweden seven months ago, trying to get asylum for the family. They used to go to the Ghazil pet market early on Friday mornings. On the day before Thafir left, they had a big breakfast at Ghaith's uncle's restaurant and spent hours walking around the pet market, looking at the animals for sale.

Then a suicide bomber blew herself up.

“All the carpets got ruined because of the bodies and the blood,” Ghaith said. “The pets got killed and one speaking parrot that cost 3 million dinars (about $2,500) got loose and flew away.”

So Ghaith was left with his terrified mom, who won't let him leave the neighborhood alone. Her brother made a trip with his family recently, to see the new tigers at Zawra Park.

“He suggested we go with them,” she said. “What are you, crazy? Taking all the family so if anything happens, death can take us all?”