BAGHDAD — On Jan. 13, 2007, a knock on the door changed Teeba Jaweed's life. An employee at her husband's supermarket stood before her, breathless.
"Your husband's been shot," he said.
Her head spun as the sound of her three daughters' wailing filled the air. As she rushed to change clothes, her mother screamed for her to stay, worried that she, too, would be shot. All Jaweed could think was, "He needs help."
She ran from her home in Hai al Saddam in southwest Baghdad to the al Rawi grocery store. The shopkeepers who run the different sections of the store were hurrying to lock up and escape. Jaweed walked into her husband's family shop, where she found his lifeless body.
Dhia Sabar's eyes were open but empty, and his two brothers also lay in a pool of blood. She screamed for help, but no one came. There was no bringing Sabar back.
Jaweed was a 30-year-old widow now, and she returned home with the image of her husband in her head and one thought: "It's over, it's all over."
This is one widow's story, but Teeba Jaweed is one of more than a million Iraqi women in the same plight, and like so many others, she has nowhere to turn for help. Sawsan al Barak, an official who deals with women's issues at the Ministry of Human Rights, said that there are at least 1.5 million widows, many of whom lost their husbands to war-related violence.
About 155,000 Iraqis have died from the violence in Iraq during the nearly five years since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, according to a study by the Iraqi Family Health Survey Study Group in collaboration with the World Health Organization. But other studies have put the number much higher. The main cause of death for men between the ages of 15 and 59 since March 2003 is violence, according to the study. Sectarian assassination campaigns and bombings have left many children and women without the breadwinners of their families.
Hanaa Edward, the head of the Iraq Al Amal Association, a human and women's rights group in Iraq, said 11 percent of the more than 20 million Iraqi families were supported by unmarried or widowed women in 2005. Widows who register with the state receive about $40 a month, barely enough to survive on their own, let alone take care of their children. The ministry has been accused of widespread corruption, Edward and Barak said.
"They don't have any social protection," Edward said. So many women have taken to the streets with their young children, begging or selling candles, balloons or gum.
Jaweed's Sunni Muslim family fled their neighborhood after her husband was killed, certain that the Shiite Mahdi Army militia had killed him to send the message that Sunnis weren't welcome in Hai al Saddam. The neighborhood would soon be taken over by Shiites.
For a year, Jaweed and her children have lived with her mother, surviving on her brother's earnings of $250 a month.
In December, a month shy of the anniversary of her husband's death, Jaweed felt a searing pain in her stomach and shortness of breath. It was her heart. The tricuspid valve, which helps pump blood through the heart, wasn't working correctly, her doctor said. Her liver was swelling, the left ventricle of her heart was failing and the right ventricle was enlarged. To stop her heart from failing, she needed to have the valve replaced or repaired.
But with few cardiac surgeons left in Iraq, Jaweed needs to travel abroad for the surgery. Without it, she could die and her daughters would be orphans.
"It's enough that they lost their father. Do they need to be robbed of their mother, too?" she asked.
"They tell me, 'Mama, please do the operation. Our father is already dead,'" said Jaweed, still wearing black to mourn her husband. "But I've lost all faith. I'm living on pills, and I cannot move much or my heartbeat rises."
Fatigue has taken hold, and she can't wake up to make her children breakfast, take them to school or play with them. Daily, she watches a video of better times, showing her husband swimming with their three young girls near the Mosul Dam. They laugh and splash around and call out, "Baba, I want to swim." Jaweed has the video on her cell phone, too. It makes her feel better for a few moments before she returns to reality.
"If Dhia was here I wouldn't have to think about it. He would take me immediately to do this operation," she said, tears rolling down her cheeks. "We had a good life. Now we live a tragedy."
On the eve of his death, Dhia Sabar visited his mother-in-law's house, where Jaweed was staying because her husband worked late hours and she didn't want to be home alone. He walked there in the rain.
"I miss you so much," he told her.
He played with the girls, Aasal, 9, Rafal, 7, and Rusul, 6. They watched "Star Academy," a Lebanese reality television show in which talented young Arabs living together in one house compete to become a star. He didn't live to see an Iraqi woman win the competition.
They went to bed and talked about the future. In the morning he went to work but returned for a few minutes to pray. It was the last time she saw him alive.
Violence in Iraq has now dropped to 2005 levels, but that means nothing to Jaweed.
"Dhia won't come back," she said. "What hope do I have?"