In Baghdad, they hope the worst is over

Sectarian: After turmoil pushed Iraq to near civil war, people are putting their lives back together
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BAGHDAD, Iraq - For three days, Najiya Saadoun hunkered down as black-clad gunmen cruised Baghdad's streets in pickup trucks, bullet-riddled bodies collected in morgues and security forces put the capital under lockdown.

But as the wave of sectarian fury subsided, and religious leaders once again joined hands before television cameras in a symbolic gesture of Muslim unity, Saadoun took courage Sunday and went looking for groceries to feed her family of six.

''I feel happier now. I think the future will be good,'' the 56-year-old woman wrapped in a black abaya and white head scarf said while hurrying down an unusually quiet street. ''For the last three days, I made use of what I had at home for the family. I will try to get some vegetables for today's meal.''

Residents of this embattled city of 7 million hoped the worst was over after the bombing of a sacred Shiite shrine in Samarra four days earlier unleashed a torrent of sectarian killings and reprisal attacks on Sunni mosques that pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war.

After days of curfews and vehicle bans, cars are out of gas, money is running low and store shelves are emptying fast.

Bakeries and supermarkets did a brisk trade Sunday, the first time pedestrians were allowed out in significant numbers since an extraordinary daytime curfew was imposed Friday. But with private vehicles still barred from the streets, and no new supplies reaching the city, prices were spiking.

Rice that cost the equivalent of 23 cents a pound at midweek was selling for 32 cents. Fresh produce was hard to find.

All Najim Nasir had left at his east Baghdad grocery store were potatoes.

''I already sold everything else,'' he said. ''It is difficult to get vegetables . . . . I just have a lot of potatoes, which can be kept for a few days.''

Most shops and businesses remained boarded up, and streets normally choked with traffic for Sunday's start of the work week were eerily empty.

''We can't go on like this,'' grumbled Saad Hussein, a 35-year-old taxi driver, whose car remained parked in front of his house. ''I am married, I have four children, and we depend on what I earn daily with this car.''

Armed Shiite militiamen blamed for many attacks on Sunnis in recent days withdrew from most neighborhoods, but police and army checkpoints gave the city a feeling of being under siege.

Security officers in flak vests, some with balaclavas covering their faces for fear of being identified by insurgents, frisked pedestrians and searched the few vehicles allowed on the road. Even a bright yellow child-sized scooter got a thorough search for hidden explosives.