Thursday, August 02, 2012

Iraqi memories

Before I dive off into my Big Apple adventures, it is important that I address Iraq in the context of the discussions with my friends about the days of Saddam, and their memories of the invasion of Iraq.  I had some fascinating discussions with my friends from Baghdad and from Kurdistan about their perspective on the past.

The Republic of Fear, the aptly named book by Prof. Kanan Makiya about life under Saddam's reign.  Fear was what I heard of the most.  My friend Ari spoke of such fears in his days in elementary school.  On Thursdays, the principal of the school would line the kids up in assembly, and while cradling a picture of Saddam in one arm, he would fire off rifle shots into the sky.  He remembered all the kids crying at such gatherings.

Others talked of the silence.  Of the things you never said, and wouldn't allow yourself to think.  Eyes in front, don't look peripherally.

I chatted a lot about the days of the invasion.  Yes, we were greeted as liberators by many Iraqis, and not just the Kurds.  But we bumbled it badly.  With no plan in place, we quickly lost trust.  I heard such pain in the memories of the days after the fall of Baghdad, when looters hit the streets and ransacked the national museum.  My friend Omar spoke of the deep and visceral sadness he felt watching the images of the looting of Iraq's heritage.

Stuff happens?  Not exactly, dear Rummy.  Such chaos set the tone.  A fractured society like Iraq that was used to imposed order would have  fallen in line if more order had been shown, but the fact that the looting and chaos transpired set the stage.  Omar spoke of the way that the chaos affected the banks.  He said that it would have taken one armed guard outside the banks to show the symbol of order, but because nothing of the sort was offered, people took.

But I was amazed at the feeling of openness people mentioned following the invasion, until the coming of the suicide wars.  I heard stories of an open and free Iraq that initially existed, but as the violence convulsed, every one hunkered down.

Of the Dr. Alis of Baghdad (and I can't remember which), he spoke of the cheer that was felt, but how it was lost amid the litany of events: Fallujah; Abu Ghraib, and other black marks  He spoke of his support, and the support of his friends that had existed but replaced by the anger he felt as an Iraqi towards the injustices on the ground.

And I heard of the silent partition of Iraq. As I previously wrote, Kurdistan shut itself off, and the Kurds rarely leave.  In Baghdad, Ali spoke of moving neighborhoods to a stronger Sunni block.  He lives just blocks away from where he grew up, but cannot bring himself to return to the house he grew up in.  Too many memories of bombings, of his neighbors deaths.  He said he sometimes feels lost in a city he has always lived in.

Hearing of the painful memories by my Iraqi friends made it feel much more real.  These were not just events that I read of and saw on the nightly news; they lived it.  They were scarred by it, and while they have tucked the trauma away behind the need to move on, it is there.  

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