- Posted April 21, 2014 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
The written word: Your personal essays
Back to the War Zone of Iraq
Over the past five years I have made several trips to Iraq, the country where I was born and the country I left in 2005. Although each trip carries its own memory of places, people, and events, each visit also carries the burden war, loss, mayhem, and dread. Attempting to disentangle tragedy from my simpler childhood is an overwhelming task. I frequently wonder: will Iraq ever recover from the jumble of wars? Will the nation once again hold together, beneath one sun and moon?
On my last trip I witnessed more than five terrorist attacks in four weeks: they all took place in Tikrit city, the current battle zone for the al- Qaida-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or ‘Daesh,’ the acronym in Arabic.
One attack targeted the military academia in the town. It was followed shortly by another attack on the Passport Center causing tens of casualties. The most devastating suicide attack was on the Salahuddin television Station December 23, which I actually witnessed from a few yards away while on a short trip to the local market. Instead of celebrating with my family, we grieved the loss of other people’s lives, the victims of the terrorist attack.
A former colleague of mine, Maha, is a high school teacher who lost her husband, a police officer, through a terrorist attack. She tells me that after ten years of “democracy” people have lost faith in the government. “People now care only for their safety and Iraq has become a dangerous place for us Iraqis, and each one of us are just waiting our turn to be the next terrorism victim.”
The world has learned that al-Qaida was nothing but one sin of the Iraq invasion of 2003, which opened the door to making Iraq a free regional hub for planning and carrying out terrorist attacks. Today al-Qaida is thriving in a region where it did not exist in it before 2003, where fragile government and dissidents now fight.
Flying over Iraq one sees countless blasted buildings, and one is challenged to keep track of new construction sites. Heaps of yellow rubble amount to cities below and everywhere people struggle to rebuild. Driving the old streets one once casually walked highlights the gravity of the situation: so many fallen buildings. Iraq’s problems seem more numerous and heavier than all the bullets and bombs fired within its borders.
As one flies, it appears that vast parts of Iraq are water. Brown puddles blotch the ground, and while one hopes all is right below, one learns instead of sewerage projects badly done—the spill and splash of super corruption has made a lake country of Iraq. Trading blame, the authorities excuse themselves to further pollute.
Maha describes to me how her school has turned into a muddy pond. Local contractors who were contracted by the US army, and later by the Iraqi government, apparently proved to be a threat to the transparency and the post 2003 reconstruction efforts.
Imagine a time, before the terrible storms of bullets and bombs in Iraq, when everyone received pay from the government, when every Iraqi could hope and dream, each a socialist dictatorship beneficiary. Now consider the present and see how differences between people are aggravated: the poor have become poorer, and the rich richer. As shown on television, starving people in Baghdad search dumpsters for their food. And middle class people struggle to keep even with the past, no longer supported by amenities the state no longer has on offer.
According to the United Nations Country Team Iraq, nearly seven million Iraqis (23 percent of the total population) live in poverty, spending less than 2.2 US$ per person per day. Twenty-two percent of Iraqi children under five are chronically malnourished and, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, an estimated 2.1 million Iraqis were internally displaced by the end of 2012.
Older people with a sense of the past complain to me. Observing that the government has changed they tell me that the morale and good manners of Iraqis have changed too. They cannot connect change with improvement. As the elderly taxi driver who picks me up from the scene of the terrorist attack describes the Iraqi government: “the fish rots from the head down.”
Flying away from Iraq, my thoughts wander from the sights and sounds to the commentary of my little nephews and nieces and the friends and people I met along the way: “Did you hear the explosion last night? “Were you afraid that the power went off?” “Are you coming back to Iraq again?” I conclude that time will be stretched thin for Iraq, that it will remain like razor wire, cutting and separating the people into sections and blocs. Sectarian, Sunni, and Shiite strife will endure. Iraqis will continue to die for the wrong reasons, and our leaders will continue to complain and blame everything on virtual enemies. They pay no attention to the dying people and only work to perfect their individual corruptions.
As the miles build toward Europe and then to the United States, I realize that I too readily forget the instances of rebuilding, and habitually remember the blasting down. I can only remember the explosions sounds and the pathetic TV statements following such attacks. I keep questioning if Iraq will ever hold together once again. Days after leaving home I receive a phone call informing me that just a few minutes before a mortar round almost killed my family as it fell in their backyard. Shuddering I remember the brown lakes and the yellow piles of fallen cities.
Have time and history become an eternal Mongol Invasion? Will the Tigris and the Euphrates always run blood red to the gulf? Or will couples and children and flowers sparkle again on every street and boulevard in Iraq?
Yet the rain does fall upon Iraq. The state is cleansed and refreshed. Marvelous, starry flowers do bloom in Anbar. My dream is that safe again in Baghdad parks couples will walk along the Abu Nouas Street and vendors, unafraid, will cheerfully sell the latest, freshest blooms for maximum dinar. Even on this last journey, pressed tight between the Iran, Kuwait, and world wars, there were cool, clear mornings and there were peaceful nights beneath the countless stars.