Iraq In 2003: My Own Memories
On 9 April 2003, the US announced the liberation of Iraq from Saddam's government. Prior to that date, the Iraqi people had not believed that this day would come. With feeling filled with sorrow and bitterness, they still remember what happened and its results.
During that time, I hoped that one day I would be able to write about my experience regarding that dreadful war. I was dreaming of writing it in English, the language of the invaders, who came from overseas to control my country under the pretext of saving Iraq from the dictatorship. It is also the language of those who bravely stood against that war through the massive protests engulfing the US, the European Union, and the other parts of the western world.
15 years ago, we were living in fatal fears. We did not know whether that war would lead to ending the Iraqi plight under the rule of the Ba'ath Party. The majority of Iraqis hoped to see the day in which they could prosecute this brutal Party for the crimes it committed against the innocent people.
Thus, I am here reporting my personal impressions during that critical time. I still recall everything as if it were happening right now. It is my special history that I can't neglect at all.
The Iraqi community had been familiar with the wars. Thus, my father resorted to the same decision he had previously adopted at such situations: The boys must stay with him in our own house in Baghdad, while my mother and my sister must go to another safe place. Diyala province, 57 kilometers north of the capital, was that destination.
That was the primary ordeal my family faced during the war. Living in separate places with no communication was a horrible thing. We did not know whether they were alive or facing a problem. Also, no one knew whether the fate would gather us again to live as a united family. This feeling was spreading in the heart and souls of all Iraqis, who suffered the same destiny.
The residents of Baghdad perceived that they were isolated from the whole world. They disappeared from the markets, the streets and the institutions. Instead, they preferred to stay in their homes awaiting something to happen. Thus, Baghdad seemed like a ghost city.
I can never forget this scene, and I fear that I might see it again in Iraq. The empty streets still create a sense of horror for the Iraqis. The same thing is with the sounds of bombs and gunshots.
We were listening to the local radio stations. They repeatedly talked about the Iraqi resistance to the American offensive. We heard about what happened in the battle of the Baghdad international airport. During this period, there was a rumor spread in Baghdad to affirm that Saddam himself participated in that fight, in which the Chemical weapons were used by either the Iraqi or the American soldiers.
The minister of information, Mohammed Al-Sahaf, was the pivotal figure of that period. His speeches were hugely used to convince people that the battle had not finished yet.
One morning in April, some Iraqi fighters came to the place where we were living. They knocked our door to ask for a help. They wanted to change their military outfit with the traditional clothes so that the American army would not target them. They informed us that the Iraqi military leaders had left them alone on the battlefield.
Then, we witnessed the members of the Ba'ath party while leaving their partisan headquarters. When asked, they said that orders had been issued for them to wear the civilian clothes and leave everything behind.
Subsequently, I personally saw an Iraqi military vehicle raising the White flag to declare its surrender to the Americans. After hours, the American tanks diffused in the streets. Therefore, people accepted this truth: Saddam Hussien was removed from his presidency, which extended from 1979 to 2003.
In the midst of that happy moment, the Iraqis focused on one thing: A new Iraq has emerged. In the eyes of those people, the Americans were a liberating force that must not be treated violently. The Americans did not have any doubt that the Iraqi community would kindly welcome them. That was the positive sense the Americans did not understand how to invest in this country, which eventually turned to be their horrible hell.
The Iraqi cities were dreaming about many things. Poor people were assuming that the Americans would build new streets, schools, hospitals, and they would also help in flourishing the Iraqi economy. They thought that the Bush's administration would help them to live in a suitable social environment.
Nevertheless, the Monster of sectarianism was slowly expanding in Iraq. It was moving from one house to another and from one city to another. Afterward, I observed that one of my neighbors was preparing to leave his house and never come back. He took his family to another place consistent with his sect. That was another setback in our new Iraq. That also was just a simple example of what was going on in a small neighborhood. In fact, the other parts of Baghdad were facing the same problem.
The sectarian lines in the city were taking shape. The Honeymoon among the Iraqis was about to end. The killing of university teachers and watching the dead bodies lying on the roads became commonplace. This led the residents of Baghdad to be more cautious in their daily life. The armed robbery gangs and criminals were spreading in the whole city. They even stole the Central Library of Baghdad's University. The Iraqi Museum was also looted in front of the American eyes. In general, there was tremendous destruction in all Baghdad's districts.
Iraq had been freed from Saddam's regime. However, new challenges were looming, such as the appearance of the American troops in the Iraqi cities, the discussions about Shiite and Sunni differences, the hatred between the Arabs and the Kurds, and the role of the regional players: Iran and Saudia Arabia.
Since then, the life of the Iraqi people has gotten worse. Now, we have a new breed of teenagers who do not believe that there had once been a united Iraq in which the diverse populations were living together peacefully. That wonderful Iraq had been a source of pride to the world before Saddam's era.
In Fact, I am a part of another generation that experienced all kinds of troubles in Iraq: The war against Iran, the war against Kuwait, the international economic siege, the American invasion, the civil war, Al Qaeda's attacks, and ISIS' control on 40% of Iraq. Till now, there are no any reassurances affirming that Iraq will not face more setbacks in the near future.
When I read the American articles referring to the Fifteenth anniversary of freeing Iraq, I feel that we are sharing the same opinions. Both the American and Iraqi people paid the cost of that risky venture that has resulted in destabilizing all the Middle East. The only winner was the corrupt politicians who invested in our pains and in our crises.
Despite all this, we are entitled to say that we need to think realistically about how to build a different future for this country, whose nation deserves more peace and happiness. Iraq is the land of our grandfathers and will also be the homeland of our descendants. We hope they will reap the benefits of this fair dream.
Diyari Salih is an Iraqi academic, Ph.D. in Political Geography, Baghdad, Post-Doctorate in International Relations, Warsaw, Focuses on the Geopolitical Issues in Iraq.