Iraqi Journalist Reflects On 8 Years Of War
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
Now that U.S. troops have pulled out of Iraq, we asked our Iraqi colleagues to tell us how their lives were affected by the war and what they think the future holds.
Isra' al Rubei'i has longed worked at NPR's Bagdad bureau, as a reporter and translator. She submitted this short piece of fiction about a man standing before a judge, a character she says represents the Iraqi experience.
ISRA' AL RUBEI'I, BYLINE: Your Honor, I have lived in Iraq long enough to say that it was never like any other place in the world. Our history has been nothing but a long day of mourning, and an endless caravan of coffins draped in flags.
Unlike other mothers and fathers, we were the only nation that fed its sons to insatiable cemeteries. This was the only place where women dreamed of men dressed in khaki. I grew up to see that khaki was the only color that painted our memories, streets, and funerals. You see, we were a nation that gave birth to only soldiers and poets.
Forgive me, your Honor, but I grew up chanting anthems of blood and glory, in a language only we could understand. Have you ever survived on black bread? Did you have to feed your children poison when sanctions bit hard? I saw my neighbor do that before lying dead next to his little ones. Did you see armies hunted like turkeys or look in the eyes of soldiers who traded rifles for a loaf? Did you watch your leader smoke his own men in long Cuban cigars?
Your honor, when I took the first glimpse of U.S. tanks rolling across our bridge, I cried with joy. And as others were busy looting the Ba'ath Party's office, I clenched my fist at Saddam's picture for stealing so many years of my life.
I told my story to the first Marine I met, and together we recited the anthem of victory and eternal loyalty. And when my fellow countrymen dubbed me an agent, I felt no shame. You don't understand, I shouted in their faces.
At home, I hung George W Bush's picture next to those of our religious leaders. In the elections, I was the first to vote. I flashed my purple finger in front of those who said they would kill me if I did.
Your honor, I always loved my neighbors, but when one of them, a so-called pious man, stared at me with a dagger behind his back, I left my neighborhood. In my new house that night, men in black knocked on my door. The imam wants to see you, they said. When I ran to the nearest American checkpoint, the soldiers told me it was none of their business.
They cut my city in two with ugly blast walls and said, live in peace. When I protested on Freedom Square, they beat me and said I was a threat to national security.
Last week I decided to leave Iraq, but they arrested me on the border. They said I had a fake I.D. I didn't want to be called Ali or Omar – Shiite or Sunni. All I wanted was to be an Iraqi. In that game of survival, we kept changing our names till we forgot who we were.
They said they would let me go if I paid them, but I refused and they beat me. I insisted on seeing you because I believe in your justice.
Yesterday, on my trip to the border, I ran through the dark, the shadows of our dilapidated and rebellious cities, cities lit by car-bombs and fires.
I waved goodbye to the last American troops, to weapons laid to cautious rest. The soldiers never waved back. And under the black rain, together we walked to the end. I shouted, Long live Iraq.
WERTHEIMER: Isra' al Rubei'i is an Iraqi. This was her dramatization of how life changed during the U.S. occupation of her country.
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