Editor’s Note: The author of this article is a contractor who has lived and worked in Baghdad. His identity is known to Truthdig’s editors, but he has written anonymously in order to offer an uncensored account.
I have been living and working in Baghdad for the past 16 months and will be leaving next week for good. I am one of those overpaid Department of Defense contractors, or, as some would call me, a “war profiteer.” Yes, I have profited. I am out of debt and have money saved. But it has cost me. I am a changed man. I have become hardened. I almost feel like a zombie.
Although I work in Baghdad, I have no idea what Baghdad looks like. I have been told by soldiers that it is “like one of those Mexican border towns.” I don’t live in the “heavily fortified” Green Zone, which, although heavily fortified, has been getting hit with mortars on a daily basis. No, I live on an Army base. I live in a trailer with four other men. We each have our own space and I am lucky to have quiet roommates. There is a common latrine and shower.
I have had a lot of experiences over these 16 months, and the situation has not changed one bit. I feel like I am leaving a sinking ship. The only thing that has changed is that more trailers have had to be added for the “surge” of troops that have come in. Oh, and our laundry now takes 72 hours to get done.
The majority of my co-workers are Iraqi, and every single one has been deeply affected by the war. Everyone knows someone who has been killed or kidnapped, whether a family member or a friend. It’s a daily occurrence, and they feel helpless, frustrated and, of course, very sad. Those that had the means have gone to either Jordan or Syria. The others are trapped. No country wants them.
Every day, the Iraqis risk their lives to come to work because they have no choice. The average salary is $300 a month, and many of them are supporting large families. Some of the Iraqis I work with just live in the building we work in rather than risk going home every day. Also, the building usually has electricity, which means there is air conditioning. In Baghdad there is usually one hour of electricity a day and hardly any water. People pitch in and buy a generator and get just enough electricity out of it to have the ceiling fan and refrigerator run.
Most Iraqis come to work by bus since there is a shortage of gasoline in Baghdad. People have to wait in line overnight in order to get gas for their cars. I wonder how we in America would react if we had even one hour without electricity or water and had to wait in a line to fuel our gas-guzzling SUVs. For us on the base, getting gas is a breeze. We just drive up to one of the many gas depots and fill our cars up. I can’t figure out how we have such easy access to gasoline and the Iraqis have none.
I was recently on vacation in the States when the bridge collapsed in Minneapolis. Yes, it was a terrible tragedy, but to the Iraqis that is nothing. Our media spent hours talking about how the bridge collapsed and how people were coping with the grief. The authorities immediately brought in grief counselors. There aren’t enough grief counselors in the world to come to Baghdad and ask the Iraqis how they are coping. But coping they are, and every day is a crapshoot.
Will I get killed or kidnapped or suffer some other horrible tragedy? Most Iraqis feel that they will indeed be killed, whether by the Sunni militia, the Shiite militia, the American Army or a car bomb. They live in constant fear. Could you imagine having to live like that? And why are they suffering so terribly? Because we are giving them freedom. Freedom is something that I fear the Iraqis will not have any time in the near future.
It is with a heavy heart that I leave behind my Iraqi friends. Their lives are absolutely horrible, but they have to keep moving every day to survive. Every day, as they leave for home, I always wonder if it will be the last time I see them.
We have made a mess of Iraq, and the Iraqis, who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, are the ones that are paying the price.
Our troops are losing morale. They know they are fighting a war that will never end, and I feel sorry for them. I feel that the ship will eventually sink and we will have caused the most terrible suffering for a people that just want a day when they can leave their house without the fear of being kidnapped or killed. For the Iraqis, freedom certainly isn’t free: They are paying a heavy price for it.