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Living With No Future: Iraq, 10 Years Later

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Posted on Mar 27, 2013
Exothermic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

By Dahr Jamail, TomDispatch

(Page 3)

He takes me to interview refugees in his neighborhood of al-Adhamiyah. Most of them fled their homes in mixed Sunni-Shia neighborhoods and towns during the sectarian violence of 2006 and 2007. Inside his cobbled-together brick house with a roof of tin sheeting held down with old tires, one refugee echoes Isam’s words: “There is no future for us Iraqis,” he told me. “Day by day our situation worsens, and now we expect a full sectarian war.”

Elsewhere, I interviewed 20-year-old Marwa Ali, a mother of two. In a country where electric blackouts are a regular event, water is often polluted, and waste of every sort litters neighborhoods, the stench of garbage and raw sewage wafted through the door of her home while flies buzzed about. “We have scorpions and snakes also,” she said while watching me futilely swat at the swarm of insects that instantly surrounded me. And she paused when she saw me looking at her children, a four-year-old son and two-year-old daughter. “My children have no future,” she said. “Neither do I, and neither does Iraq.”

Shortly afterward, I met with another refugee, 55-year-old Haifa Abdul Majid. I held back tears when the first thing she said was how grateful she was to have food. “We are finding some food and can eat, and I thank God for this,” she told me in front of her makeshift shelter. “This is the main thing. In some countries, some people can’t even find food to eat.”

She, too, had fled sectarian violence, and had lost loved ones and friends. While she acknowledged the hardship she was experiencing and how difficult it was to live under such difficult circumstances, she continued to express her gratitude that her situation wasn’t worse.  After all, she said, she wasn’t living in the desert.  Finally, she closed her eyes and shook her head.  “We know we are in this bad situation because of the American occupation,” she said wearily. “And now it is Iran having their revenge on us by using Maliki, and getting back at Iraq for the [1980-1988] war with Iran. As for our future, if things stay like they are now, it will only keep getting worse. The politicians only fight, and they take Iraq down into a hole. For 10 years what have these politicians done? Nothing! Saddam was better than all of them.”

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I asked her about her grandson.  “Always I wonder about him,” she replied. “I ask God to take me away before he grows up, because I don’t want to see it. I’m an old woman now and I don’t care if I die, but what about these young children?”  She stopped speaking, looked off into the distance, then stared at the ground.  There was, for her, nothing else to say.

I heard the same fatalism even from Awadh, Al Jazeera’s head of security.  “Baghdad is stressed,” he told me.  “These days you can’t trust anyone. The situation on the street is complicated, because militias are running everything. You don’t know who is who. All the militias are preparing for more fighting, and all are expecting the worst.”

As he said this, we passed under yet another poster of an angry looking Maliki, speaking with a raised, clenched fist.  “Last year’s budget was $100 billion and we have no working sewage system and garbage is everywhere,” he added. “Maliki is trying to be a dictator, and is controlling all the money now.”

In the days that followed, my fixer Ali pointed out new sidewalks, and newly planted trees and flowers, as well as the new street lights the government has installed in Baghdad. “We called it first the sidewalks government, because that was the only thing we could see that they accomplished.”  He laughed sardonically. “Then it was the flowers government, and now it is the government of the street lamps, and the lamps sometimes don’t even work!”

Despite his brave face, kind heart, and upbeat disposition, even Ali eventually shared his concerns with me.  One morning, when we met for work, I asked him about the latest news.  “Same old, same old,” he replied, “Kidnappings, killings, rapes. Same old, same old. This is our life now, everyday.”

“The lack of hope for the future is our biggest problem today,” he explained.  He went on to say something that also qualified eerily as another version of the “same old, same old.”  I had heard similar words from countless Iraqis back in the fall of 2003, as violence and chaos first began to engulf the country.  “All we want is to live in peace, and have security, and have a normal life,” he said, “to be able to enjoy the sweetness of life.”  This time, however, there wasn’t even a trace of his usual cheer, and not even a hint of gallows humor.

“All Iraq has had these last 10 years is violence, chaos, and suffering. For 13 years before that we were starved and deprived by [U.N. and U.S.] sanctions. Before that, the Kuwait War, and before that, the Iran War. At least I experienced some of my childhood without knowing war. I’ve achieved a job and have my family, but for my daughters, what will they have here in this country? Will they ever get to live without war? I don’t think so.” 

For so many Iraqis like Ali, a decade after Washington invaded their country, this is the anniversary of nothing at all.

Dahr Jamail is a feature story staff writer and producer for the Human Rights Department of Al Jazeera English. Currently based in Doha, Qatar, Dahr has spent more than a year in Iraq, spread over a number of trips between 2003 and 2013. His reportage from Iraq, including for TomDispatch, has won him several awards, including the Martha Gellhorn Award for Investigative Journalism. He is the author of Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.

Copyright 2013 Dahr Jamail


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