Displaced Iraqis find unusual shelter

Ali Abd al-Hasan has lost five children and now lives in the very building where they were last seen alive - the former headquarters of Saddam Hussein's mukhabarat or secret police.

    The old secret police building is now home to many families

    Two years after the former president's defeat, the devastated compound in Baghdad houses scores of displaced Iraqi families.

    "We used to be scared to look or gesture towards this building. Now it's our home," al-Hasan said.

    Among the ruins, the unemployed Iraqi shares a single room with 13 members of his family.

    He does not know if the small room he now calls home was used as a torture chamber, but the building is a daily reminder of the death of his children, who were brought to the police headquarters in 1981 at the height of the Iran-Iraq war and then disappeared.

    They were members of the Shia-dominated Dawa Party, whose exiled leader at the time, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, is today the new prime minister of the war-torn country.

    Crowded building

    Hundreds of families, evicted from their homes by post-war rent hikes, now crowd the building, eating and sleeping on thin, ragged mats in large spaces with no furniture.

    Bare-footed children have no 
    access to fresh water 

    Each family has its own cooking space, but common makeshift bathrooms are shared by all. Iron barrels and plastic jars are used for baths.

    Bare-footed children, many half naked, play near a deformed mural of Saddam Hussein in the garden of the vast compound.

    Just a few metres away, opposite the devastated building, a newly rebuilt and heavily protected concrete block houses the new headquarters of Iraq's intelligence agency.

    Barbed wires keep the children out, and heavily armed guards scan the approaches from watchtowers.

    Most families hoped for a better future after the end of Saddam Hussein's rule.

    Shattered dreams

    But two years after his ousting, the dreams of many Iraqis have been shattered by daily car bombings, ambushes, kidnappings and urban fighting.

    Children sleep on thin mats in
    large rooms with no electricity

    "I live with my five children in one room. We do not have electricity or fresh water. We cannot afford to send our children to school," Hasna Sarhan, a 49 year-old widow, said.

    She lost her husband in the US-led invasion in March 2003.

    "What we want is to live like human beings. We had a dream of a better future, but everyday this dream fades," Sarhan added.

    Zainab Latif, 10, said as she carried her two year-old brother: "We are poor and no one accepts us. What we need is to go to school, have new clothes and toys."

    "We always find toys in the garbage or people bring us old ones. We play with them but we will never be able to buy any."



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