BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The men of the Takwa'a Mosque climbed the minaret in search of a crescent moon that would signal the beginning of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month.
It had been said the beginning of Ramadan might signal the end of the bombing of Iraq.
They scanned the sky over Baghdad yesterday as it darkened from a dusty blue to the dove gray of evening. Below them lay the bombed-out remnants of a stone villa, a casualty of the U.S. military confrontation with Iraq.
The five men fixed their gaze to the west, hunting in vain for a sliver of light. After 10 minutes, the group's elder summoned the men down.
"I hope Ramadan will come and God will pour his anger on the aggressors," said Abdel Hamin, the mosque's muezzin, whose voice summons fellow Muslims to prayer.
For three nights, missiles fired by the United States and Iraqi anti-aircraft fire had illuminated the Baghdad sky in ashower of white, gold and red.
"This is another crusade against Iraq," said Hussein Aboud al-Rawi, 28, an engineer who had climbed the minaret. "The first one by Richard [the Lion-Hearted], the second by Clinton the liar."
The men of the Takwa'a Mosque were indifferent to the possibility that the strikes led by the Americans and British would cease at the start of Ramadan. Although the moon eluded them last night, other apparent sightings in Iraq and the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, gave rise to the official declaration that Ramadan would begin at dawn today.
Cannons heard elsewhere in Baghdad were thought to have signaled the beginning of Ramadan.
"If Ramadan comes and they stop it, they will start again," said al-Rawi. "There are verses from the prophet Mohammed that Iraq in the future will have a great role in destroying the Jews. The Americans now are under the control of the Jewish lobby, and these strikes are destroying the Iraqi ability to destroy the Jews."
The barrage of cruise missiles has hit factories in Baghdad, oil refineries in the south, a home of President Saddam Hussein's daughter and other targets. But whether they have destroyed Iraq's ability to produce weapons of mass destruction is not known.
What is known is that people such as Jassim Ghelan have paid the price for Iraq's refusal to comply with United Nations weapons inspectors. Ghelan owns the two-story villa near the Takwa'a Mosque in the Al Adil residential district. Until the other night, he lived there comfortably with his wife and four children.
Now he lies in a Baghdad hospital bed, his jaw broken, his head swathed in a bandage and wrapped in a towel, his right eye blackened and swollen.
A fluffy, striped blanket covers him, but his undershirt bears the bloodstains from the wounds he suffered the night of the attack on the villa.
A missile -- or the remnants of one -- crashed through the back of his stone house Thursday, leaving a gaping hole, shattering windows and twisting the iron window grilles. He and his family -- including his 20-day-old son, Emir -- were sleeping in one room because his children were afraid to sleep alone.
The blast knocked Ghelan unconscious. His wife carried him from the wreckage. The neighbors rescued his screaming children from the wreckage.
The injuries he sustained have changed this 40-year-old marine engineer with a doctoral degree who traveled as a young man to New York, New Jersey and Texas. An import-export consultant who worked in Russia, Ghelan hoped to do business in America.
"I hear from Mr. Clinton that they will not bomb the children," Ghelan said from his hospital bed. "For this reason, I believe him. Now I know he didn't tell the truth. I ask Saddam Hussein for revenge. He must not keep silent. And the Iraqi people, the Arab people, must take revenge. What did I do or my children to Clinton?"
The wards of the Al Yarmouk Hospital in southwestern Baghdad were filled with about 30 Iraqis who had sustained injuries during the bombardment. The hospital had its share of the dead too, more than a dozen, according to the hospital's deputy director.
Yesterday, Tarik al-Safi shouldn't have been at the hospital. Friday is the Muslim day of worship. But these are difficult days, and al-Safi, deputy director of the hospital, moved a bed into his office. On his desk he keeps a piece of shrapnel, an oyster-shaped hunk of gray metal.
'This is from a nearby hit," al-Safi said.
Mosin Hadi Juber, a cigarette vendor, has a piece of shrapnel lodged in his upper leg. While on his way home the other evening, he was hit as a missile exploded above him and collapsed on the pavement. The explosion created a crater in the main street of the Karada shopping district. A taxi driver scooped up Juber and hauled him to the hospital.
Asked whether he fears another attack, he said from his hospital bed, "God will save my life."
Khamis Hatem Khader can't explain why he is alive today.
After closing his vegetable store Thursday shortly after midnight, he boarded a small bus for the ride home. Along the way, a fiery blast lighted up the sky.
"I could see the flame and the smoke" through the window of the bus, he said.
The blast toppled the bus, and Khader was thrown from the vehicle.
He heard people screaming for help and saw another bus crash. "After the accident, I tried to stand," said Khader, but his right leg was broken.
He fainted from the pain and woke up in the hospital. Yesterday, his leg was in a cast from foot to hip. His parents, two sisters and brother sat nearby, listening as he recounted his ordeal. Some other passengers were killed, he said.
Khader is thankful to be alive. But unlike some Iraqis who are resigned to the confrontation with the United States and its allies, Khader is no longer complacent.
"This accident increases my insistence to resist America," said the father of five. "God willing, may we win."
Pub Date: 12/19/98