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Fear Rises in Iraq as Ramadan Begins  - 2004-10-15

A powerful car bomb exploded Friday in Baghdad near an Iraqi police station. Five civilians and five policemen were wounded in the attack that occurred on the first day of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Many Iraqis say Ramadan has become their month of fear.

The holy month of Ramadan is a time of fasting, prayer and peace.

But such was not the case in Baghdad Friday, as the Islamic holy month begins.

A car bomb was detonated near an Iraqi police station, wounding at least 10 people, including five Iraqi police officers. Within minutes, U.S. Army helicopters circled overhead, while Iraqi and coalition forces sealed off the area.

In the process, a massive traffic jam developed on what would otherwise be a day of rest, prayer and fasting.

"We hope it will not be violent in the future," said 29-year-old hotel worker Rafiq Shonni. "But, so far, it's not a good start here. You know, it's the first day, so it's really not good. We're not happy about it. It's a bad sign.

Many Iraqis say, for them, the meaning of Ramadan has changed.

Last year's Ramadan, the first after the fall of Saddam Hussein, saw a dramatic increase in death and violence, as the result of the insurgency in the country.

Iraqi policeman Omar Sabah, 27, says he is afraid this year's Ramadan will be worse. Officer Sabah says Ramadan is supposed to be the month of peace. Now, he says, it is the month of fear. He says he started fasting this morning. But, after he saw the aftermath of Friday's car bombing, he broke his fast by smoking a cigarette.

Carpenter Sadan Abdel Rahman, 40, says Ramadan in Iraq may never again be the same. Mr. Rahman says, in the past, Ramadan was about concentrating on the fear of God, and worshiping God. Now, he says, Ramadan is about having a fear of explosions.

In past years, Ramadan produced large crowds of Iraqis out on the streets late at night in celebration. No more. People stay in their homes and away from any location that might be seen as a potential terrorist target.

The majority of Iraqis believe the insurgents are from outside of the country, because they say no Muslim would commit acts of violence against a fellow Muslim, especially during Ramadan.

But, regardless of who is responsible, many Iraqis say Ramadan has now become the month they fear the most. They say they pray that it will be peaceful, but they firmly believe it will not.