AL-RUWEISHID, Jordan March 28 —
They didn't say a word as they barreled down the deserted,
crater-pocked highway at 110 mph Thursday. For eight hours, their
lips moved with verses from the Quran, but no sound emerged.
They prayed to the roar of the battered Chevrolet 2500, and to
the scream of the desert wind. They prayed to the whine of the imam,
reciting from the cassette player.
They gaped at crushed buses, burned-out cars and teetering
bridges. But they stopped only twice, hurrying to fill their gas
When the family of six finally emerged from Iraq and stopped for
thick coffee at a roadside restaurant in this outpost 50 miles from
the Iraqi border, their faces lit up with smiles for the first time
in seven days.
"This smile is because I'm here and I'm safe. But my heart is
very sad," said Ashwa, 21. "I left in Baghdad my friends, my family,
my cousins everybody. If I go back after the war, will they still be
Sadeq, a loyal member of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, has done
well for himself despite 13 years of U.N.-imposed sanctions on
He built an import-export business that ran grocery stock and car
parts between Baghdad and Amman. He built a luxurious house in
northern Baghdad and rented a comfortable apartment in the Jordanian
The children attended private schools and learned fluent English.
Ashwa enrolled in college to become a civil engineer.
None of that made any difference when the first cruise missiles
slammed into Baghdad on March 20. The family speaking on condition
that their last name not be published and that they not be
photographed was thrust into the same hell as Baghdad's 5 million
Schools closed, phone lines fell and many shops were shuttered.
As nighttime air raid sirens wailed, the family huddled together in
"Every night, my daughter would shake like somebody who has
Parkinson's," Sadeq said.
"It was terrible," Ashwa, the daughter in question, confessed
quietly. "Especially at night, when I heard the sound of the
"We didn't want to go," added Sadeq's wife, Sahira, her voice
breaking. "We had everything there friends, relatives, our
The family was conflicted: Sadeq wanted to take up arms to defend
his country. Sahira worried about her girls.
"I have three daughters. The Americans were coming, and they are
beasts," Sahira said. "I had to protect them."
And so on Tuesday, the sixth day of punishing airstrikes, the
family reached a decision: They would flee.
Sadeq called a taxi driver who had taken him to Amman so many
times. The normal fee for the trip, $200 in U.S. dollars, had risen
to $2,000 as it became ever more dangerous, but Sadeq appealed to
the men's long relationship.
The road wasn't safe, the driver said, but he agreed to make the
run for $450. If the family made it, he would be out as well.
The family packed and prepared to leave first thing Wednesday
morning. But they awoke to a city shrouded in dust in one of the
worst sandstorms in memory. The driver decided they would have to
"Last night I held my sisters and said, `There they come,'" said
Zeynab, 12. "The planes came and the nightmare started again."
Sahira had told the children not to worry because the planes
weren't targeting civilians. But Wednesday night, she said, she
couldn't repeat those assurances after a missile exploded in a
Baghdad marketplace, killing 14 people.
"How can they kill people who haven't done anything to them?"
The family weathered the night, and at 8:15 a.m. Thursday, they
hit the road.
Sadeq had heard the rumors: U.S. helicopters were hunting for
fleeing Iraqi officers; armed tribesmen waited to ambush passing
cars; a U.S. military checkpoint was firing on oncoming
"We were worried that any helicopter would shoot us, because they
are killing everybody," he said. "I was looking left, right, looking
for a helicopter."
"There was no talking," Ashwa said. "We just prayed. Nothing
The family reported passing three bombed buses, four charred
cars, two destroyed bridges. They held their breath as they hugged
the shoulder of one bridge the only part still standing.
They passed three moving cars during the entire trip, all of them
tearing across the desert in the other direction, toward Baghdad.
They didn't dare to stop them and ask about the road ahead.
"The whole way I looked up at the sky," Sahira said. "I stuck my
face against the window and looked up. I was ready to jump out and
run at any moment."
"We listened to the Quran and prayed to God to arrive at the
border safely," Sadeq said.
After eight hours, their prayers were answered: There had been no
American helicopters, no armed tribesmen, no checkpoints. They were
at the border.
Big smiles spread on the women's faces when they arrived at the
Abu Sayyef restaurant in the border outpost of Al-Ruweishid for a
cup of coffee before continuing onto Amman, three hours to the
As a television in the restaurant flashed images of Baghdad,
smoke rising from the buildings, Sahira pointed excitedly and called
"Look, look! Images from home!" she yelled.
The little girl turned away, hiding her eyes in her hands.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Niko Price is correspondent at large for The
|Fire and smoke can be seen over
Baghdad Thursday night, March 27, 2003. Strong explosions
shook central Baghdad late Thursday, and buildings close to
the Information Ministry appeared to have been hit.(AP
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