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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 January 2008, 14:06 GMT
School life amid Baghdad's bombings
Producers, This World: Ivan O'Mahoney and Laura Winter

Boys From Baghdad High
The boys are distracted by gunfire and find it difficult to study
Baghdad has become one of the world's most dangerous cities, but on the first day of term at Tariq bin Ziad High School for Boys, Ali and his 17-year-old friends have other concerns.

The four friends chat excitedly about girls, Britney Spears, who has the best ripped jeans and whose hair is the spikiest or is a disaster.

It seems pretty normal, but it isn't. Suicide bombings, mortar attacks and kidnappings are tearing their city apart. Citywide curfews lasting days are the norm.

Ali watches the TV news nightly: "Our news! Here is a glimpse of it. First item: killed. Second item: died. Third item: exploded. Fourth news: kidnapped. Good news? There is no good news."

In October 2006, 2,722 men, women and children died violently, many because of their religion.

But the 17-year-old boys are a tight group of friends - regardless of their different religious, ethnic and economic backgrounds.

Anmar is a church-attending Catholic. While his favourite subject in and outside of school is girls, he somehow forces himself to study.

Hayder is a not-so-religious Shia Muslim. He yearns to strut on a stage with a microphone in his hand, belting out his own love songs.

Ali, a Kurd, strives to keep his cool-factor high. He dreams of being an architect while his best friend Mohammed, of mixed Sunni/Shia background, does not really know what he wants to be yet. Mohammad is simply happy to be the joker of the bunch.

School assembly

Boys From Baghdad High
Nearly a quarter of the school's 600 students have fled Baghdad
Headmaster Raad Jawad is acutely aware of how Baghdad's violence affects morale. Right from the opening day assembly he tries to motivate his 600 students.

"You are the sons of Mesopotamia," he tells them. "An ancient civilisation that has been here for thousands of years. The situation is difficult and the circumstances are harsh. But we should take every chance to learn. Education is the foundation to build our country."

The boys nod in agreement but in Baghdad, the violence creeps in, affecting every aspect of life. It is difficult to concentrate on studying.

Anmar is worried about his girlfriend. He has been trying to call her for days.

Every day nearly 2,000 people leave their homes, joining about four million who are already refugees around the country or in Jordan and Syria
"I have had no text messages, no missed calls, nothing," Anmar said. "I don't know what to do. Maybe she will call me. I pray to God she will call. I hope nothing bad has happened to her."

Hayder finds it hard to prepare for his tests because he is constantly distracted by gunfire. "The country is in a mess. I am really worried," he says.

Saddam trial

Barely more than a month into the school year and there is another curfew. It follows the conviction of Saddam Hussein for crimes against humanity.

The country has been sitting riveted to its television screens for the verdict and for the sentence, death by hanging.

When the curfew is lifted, Mohammad and Ali are finally able to hang out and watch music videos in Ali's room. But when Mohammad takes his shoes off, it's a bomb of a sort.

"Yuck!" yells Ali. Pointing to Mohammad's socks and holding his nose. "What's this? Put your feet away! Put them away! If Chemical Ali really wanted to destroy the North, he should have fired a rocket with Mohammad's socks in."

The time these two friends can spend together is precious. Ali's father has decided that Baghdad is too dangerous for Ali and his mother so he is sending them to the capital of Kurdish Iraq, Irbil.

"I'm pretty upset," says Mohammed. "Bad news - my friend's departure. He's been my friend since primary school. He's packing his things and heading North."

Boys From Baghdad High
The headmaster fears students have lost hope in the future
Every day nearly 2,000 people leave their homes, joining about four million who are already refugees around the country or in Jordan and Syria.

By the time Ali departs for the north, nearly a quarter of his school's 600 students and their families have fled Baghdad.

Distractions

After threats against her neighbours, Mohammad's Shia aunt takes her two children and flees her increasingly Sunni district to move in with his family.

With three more people around him, Mohammad has three more distractions that take his mind off of his studies. He fails all seven of his midterm exams.

All of Iraq's high school students must take national exams to graduate. In the months running up to the exams there are two bombings at a Baghdad university, killing scores of students.

Some of their classmates are killed in bombings and shootings. The so-called "Surge" of US troops begins.

Only Anmar graduates and goes on to university but all four remain friends.

Mr Jawad the headmaster blames the continuing violence for a disappointing year. "The explosions, the forceful evictions and kidnappings. It makes the students feel down. They have lost hope in the future."

This World: The Boys From Baghdad High will be broadcast on Tuesday 8 January 2007 at 2100 GMT on BBC Two.

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