The Iraqis: Four Lost Lives

Describing Jalal Mustafa to a reporter, the first thing his family mentions is "that long love story of his." The young mechanic's dream was to wed his fiancée, Laila, and "have as many kids as they could." But running a small auto-repair shop, it took Mustafa a long time to save up enough for the wedding, let alone a house. On Feb. 4, he finally went to the courthouse to apply for a marriage license. As he was walking through the gates, a car pulled up next to the building. Before the vehicle came to a full stop, the driver detonated a suicide bomb. Four bystanders died, including Mustafa: burned over much of his body, a piece of shrapnel lodged in his head. The bombing didn't even make the news; it was an ordinary day in Baghdad.

For each U.S. service member killed in Iraq, at least 20 Iraqis die violently. Feb. 4 was no exception. That day in Baghdad, roadside bombs killed four Iraqi policemen in one incident and two soldiers in another, and an Army colonel lost his life to assassins in the southern suburbs. But most of the day's 81 victims of violent deaths—about the usual daily toll this past winter—were civilians like Mustafa, the softest of soft targets. Forty-two of them were gunned down execution style, many of their corpses bearing signs of torture: hallmarks of Shia death squads. Most of the other deaths appeared to be the work of Sunni and Al Qaeda extremists. NEWSWEEK talked to the families of four of the Feb. 4 victims. Among them were a street vendor, a former TV journalist and a truck-parts dealer. Two were Shia, and two were Sunni. And in each case their families lost not only loved ones but breadwinners. None of their killers has been identified:

Jawad Jasem, 44, was serving a customer at his pushcart outside the courthouse when the bomb exploded. The son of a poor Shia farmer, Jasem had wanted to be an engineer. When he was 18, family friends got him into the Air Force, where he earned good money working on jets—until the Army, desperate for infantrymen in the war with Iran, sent him to the front. He was wounded four times. He was not allowed to return to civilian life after the war, even though he had a wife and five children. "He used to tell everyone that the last day of his military service would be the happiest day of his life," says his younger brother, Kareem, a shopkeeper. "He said he'd celebrate with a great party in which he would make a feast for the entire city."

It didn't turn out that way. His last day of duty was April 8, 2003, when U.S. troops entered Baghdad. Jawad was among thousands of Iraqi soldiers who stripped off their uniforms and fled.

He started over, buying his pushcart and setting up in front of the courthouse. He built a good business. It was a predominantly Shia neighborhood, but the bomber killed members of both sects indiscriminately. "Evil has no eyes," says Kareem Jasem. "Jawad's shop had turned into just a big hole ... and his body was smashed into a wall."

Abdul Salam, 47, was a pious Sunni who believed in sectarian harmony. The father of six, he had refused to join Saddam's Army, and worked instead in defense factories. After the invasion, he started a truck-parts business; he hired two Shia apprentices and set up shop in Al Yousifiyah, a mostly Sunni suburb. Driving home from work one night with his two assistants, Salam stopped at a police checkpoint. A van full of gunmen pulled up and abducted all three. Shia friends tried to intercede for Salam at the local Mahdi Army office, but on Feb. 4, Salam's corpse was found dumped in a field a few miles from his home, shot repeatedly in the head and chest. His Shia apprentices were freed. "He was beloved by his friends, colleagues and all of his neighbors, most of them Shiites," says Salam's brother, Naser Zaidan. "He used to say Islam is the unifier of Iraqis."

For Suhad Shakir, 36, her new job was a dream come true. She had always wanted to work with Americans, and she loved helping people. Last September she quit her post as a journalist at state-owned TV and jumped at an opening with the Iraqi Assistance Center, a Coalition-run office in the Green Zone that works with U.S. and Iraqi agencies to provide social services. It seemed safer than reporting, and it paid better.

On Feb. 4 she was on her way to work, waiting in the queue at a checkpoint near an entrance to the Green Zone which is often targeted by suicide bombers. Shakir was in the slow lane, for Iraqi cars that are subject to careful searches. A convoy of armored vehicles came roaring up and got stuck at the checkpoint. One of the bodyguards in the first vehicle threw a bottle of water at the driver in front of Shakir to signal him to move. The driver panicked and backed into Shakir's car. She tried to get out of the way but backed into the car behind her. Someone aboard the fourth vehicle in the convoy, seeing Shakir's sudden move, opened fire, hitting her once. The vehicle slowed and a goateed Westerner in khaki leaned out his window and shot her again in the face at close range. Then the convoy raced off into the Green Zone.

Iraqi cops think Shakir's killer mistook her for a suicide bomber, but they say they're continuing to investigate. "It is very important I know why she is killed and who killed her," said Shakir's mother, Salima Kadhim, dressed in black a month after her daughter's death. Like many Iraqis, she still waits.