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Desperate to leave, Iraqi family finds solace in new baby

The Methboubs are delighted at the arrival of their new son, but a cloud of poverty and violence remains over the Baghdad family.

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To a poor Iraqi family like the Methboubs, the birth of a baby boy is a joyous light of hope in an era of darkness, a diversion from the nation that is disintegrating around them, an answer to prayers for a glimpse of normal life.

Little Fahad carries the burden with grace, smiling his way through the cuddles of a family virtually imprisoned in their threadbare apartment by the sectarian violence.

Fahad means "cougar." "We should call the next one 'Lion,'" jokes the boy's oldest aunt, Fatima, holding him high and kissing his lips. "Then we can start a zoo."

The trials of this Iraqi family – of widow Karima Selman Methboub and her eight children – provide a window on how dramatically daily life has changed since US forces toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

There is resilience and laughter here. But there is also mounting frustration, even a flash of desperation, as Karima tells – her eyes moistening – how she lost her cleaning job at a local hotel, because it has no more customers.

Dramas large and small sweep play out in this Shiite household, as they almost certainly do behind every front door in Iraq. Fatima has been turning down suitors again; son Mahmoud, 12, has happily added a rear basket and a number of Iraqi flag stickers to his bicycle.

But daughter Duha was lightly injured in a recent nearby explosion. A son and now a son-in-law have joined the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia loyal to anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, which is believed to be behind many sectarian killings.

At the secondary school of twins Duha and Hibba, students are thinning out, as parents keep them home or move to safe countries, or safer cities. Teachers are retiring early.

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