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Circus goes on in Iraq despite grenade

BAGHDAD, Iraq—The somber mixed with the silly when a troupe of Iraqi and British performers juggled, clowned and sang Thursday at the National Theater in Baghdad, lightening postwar life a bit.

Circus 2 Iraq, a London-based troupe of peace activists, and Happy Family, a Baghdad theater group, merged for the performance. Jo Wilding, a British antiwar activist who spent time in Iraq before the war as a "human shield" meant to ward off bombing, came up with the idea.

"I saw so many children suffering during the war," said Circus 2 Iraq clown Uzma Bashir, 33, of London. "It is really vital for the psychology of children to have joy in their lives."

Though the day was filled mostly with the grins and laughter of 150 children in the audience, it began solemnly with a song called "Baghdad, Don't Feel in Pain," which reduced many spectators to tears.

Safha Eid, 27, the director of Happy Family, performed only hours after a grenade was tossed onto the home stage he uses for rehearsals. Eid said he thought the blast, which shattered his windows, was in retaliation for his work with the British circus. Iraqis who collaborate with Western foreigners are often targets for attack.

The show went on, nonetheless.

"We will not stop. We will continue for the sake of Iraq," Eid declared before the performance, as an assistant applied clown makeup to his face.

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(Wright is a photographer for the Detroit Free Press.)

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(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): usiraq+circus

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