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Iraq Transition

A generation forgotten in war

By CNN's Hala Gorani
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- It is another violent and bloody day in Baghdad.

On our drive through the streets of the capital's Kadhamiya district, we see the carcass of a burnt out car, and hear nearby explosions which we later find out were two car bombs.

Today, seven are killed on the streets of this mainly Shiite neighborhood. In almost any other city in the world, this would be breaking news. In Baghdad, it's just another day.

Like most elsewhere in the Iraqi capital, Kadhamiya is dangerous, violent and the scene of unimaginable human carnage.

There is mayhem all around, but when we step into the House of Mercy retirement home, there is near complete silence, disturbed only by the light, slow steps of a few of the center's residents.

There are nine boarders at House of Mercy, a home for the elderly financed by a local Shiite cleric. The hallways are clean and wide. Each room has three to four single beds where residents spend most of their time. Their ages range from 65 to over 90 years old.

I meet Fakhria in the House of Mercy lobby. In a white headscarf, a red printed dress and dark black stockings, she walks toward me, balancing her tiny frame on a crutch. Fakhria says she can't remember what year she was born, but knows she was a schoolgirl when King Faisal I ruled Iraq in the 1930s.

In a society that usually takes care of its elderly and keeps them at home in the last years of their lives, Fakhria is a sad exception. She says her husband is dead and has no children.

"I'm like a leaf fallen from a tree," she tells me wiping a tear with her veil. "I am all alone."

Through the eyes of Fakhria, one can see seven decades of Iraqi history. From King Faisal I and the British occupation of the country, to King Faisal II, the bloody coup that brought Abdel Karim Qassem to power, the Baathist coup that overthrew him, and the gradual rise of Saddam Hussein.

Through her eyes and that of other House of Mercy residents, there are the years of pain of the Iran-Iraq war, the first Gulf War, the decade of stinging economic sanctions, the second Gulf War all the way to present day Iraq.

"There were no wars, no jail, no anything," says 71-year-old Abdelzahra Ahraiz of his childhood under King Faisal II. His hands shaking from Parkinson's disease, he carefully leads me to the bedroom he shares with three other center residents.

Abdelzahra says he fled Iraq in 1973 after having been jailed for four years because, he tells me, he was considered by authorities to have been a supporter of Abdel Karim Qassem, another Iraqi ruler whose regime saw many political killings and imprisonment.

After King Faisal's short reign in the 1950s, he tells me "many were killed, many were jailed." He paused, seemingly too tired -- or too emotional -- to continue.

He came back to Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein an old and sick man. On his bedside table, almost all his possessions: A pair of reading glasses, a magnifying glass, a bottle of medicine and a book in English he opens daily to try to keep the command his has of the language fresh.

Estranged from the children he says he had to leave behind 35 years ago, he spends his days here, faced with the reality of what his country is enduring today.

"Maybe in the United States, you go sleep, eat, dance, whatever. Not have war. Not have war. But here ..." he stops. "Here" is a land of occupation and internecine war, insurgency and sectarian bloodshed.

House of Mercy head Hadi Al-Tai says the center organizes poetry and literature readings to keep the residents entertained.

There are also plans to build a playground for children next to the main building because, he says, "old people feel better when they see children in front of them, so they remember that they were fathers and became grandfathers."

A full cycle of life, too often prematurely interrupted in Iraq.


story.fakhira.jpg

Fakhira, one of the residents of the House of Mercy in Baghdad.

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