Thursday, March 18, 2004


Local Iraqi teenagers, called chebavs, risk their own lives to rescue others from bombed or burning buildings:

They have had nearly a year now to grow accustomed to the sight of bombed-out buildings on fire. But it is quite another thing to enter them, as many Iraqi youths did last night, even before the first fire trucks arrived.

The heroics of the local chebavs, Iraqi teens who know no fear, were readily visible from the middle of the chaotic aftermath of a massive car bomb explosion in central Baghdad.

The blast and the flames it ignited killed at least 17 people and was blamed — by the U.S. authorities and by ordinary Iraqis in the street — on the deadly insurgency that has bedevilled the American occupiers and the beleaguered provisional authority that is attempting to restore order amid Iraq's postwar chaos.

On one side of the downtown Karada district street sat the four-storey Mount Lebanon Hotel, its outer walls shorn clean, each guest room exposed and ablaze. Across the street, seven residential buildings were similarly shorn of their facades, revealing a dollhouse-like jumble of beds, tables and burning bookshelves three storeys high.

Even as the fire trucks approached, a dozen or more acrobatic teams were inside, alternately rappelling down ropes from nearby rooftops or climbing up through rubble-strewn stairwells.

The Star watched them rescue at least two people — one elderly, kaffiyeh-clad man and a weeping dazed woman who appeared in her 50s — among an estimated 45 injured.


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