the last grave

more compelling narratives from Iraq:

"I was willing to fight with a gun, but not to commit suicide," he said.

He returned to Baghdad with his group, reporting to the People's Stadium. With a guard, he was sent to fetch water for the militiamen. Outside the gate, he told the guard he was going to buy cigarettes, went around the corner and then ran, past the stadium and past the Baath Party militiamen in the streets. He changed in a house in the neighborhood of Zayuna, leaving behind his black uniform and rifle. He made a quick call to his parents, then caught a taxi. He left with nothing more than his student identification in his pocket.

Tahsin said he went as far as he could -- three hours to Mandali, a city northeast of Baghdad on the Iranian border, where his maternal aunt lived. He stayed there until the war in Baghdad ended, returning Friday when he thought it was safe.

"I heard the government fell, and I knew everything was fine," he said. "I knew I could come home."

It appears Tahsin's flight was repeated across Iraq as U.S. forces closed on the capital. His brothers, 26-year-old Salman and 23-year-old Moussa, deserted their army units defending Baghdad one week ago, the first day American troops entered the city. As Shiite Muslims, long oppressed by the Sunni Muslim-dominated Baath Party, it was not a government they wanted to defend. As fathers, they were more interested in taking their families from the front line near Abu Chir and moving them to the relative safety of Saddam City.

"They have families and they fled," Tahsin said.

Like other Iraqis, he said he was now bracing for what's next -- a moment unlike any in the past 35 years, when Iraq is without a government, without authority and with little sense of the future. For Tahsin, his priorities are simple. School is his priority and then "a good life."

"I wish for a car. When I get a car, I want an apartment. When I get an apartment, I hope I can get a wife," he said.

Nothing more? "That's it," he said.

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