above, for articles in
Iraq on My Mind
Thousands of Stories to Tell -- And No One to
violence we forget who we are" -- Mary McCarthy, novelist and
spent a fair amount of time in occupied Iraq, I now find living in the United
States nothing short of a schizophrenic experience. Life in Iraq was
traumatizing. It was impossible to be there and not be affected by apocalyptic
levels of violence and suffering, unimaginable in this country.
here's the weird thing: One long, comfortable plane ride later and you're in
Disneyland, or so it feels on returning to the United States. Sometimes it seems
as if I'm in a bubble here that's only moments away from popping. I find myself
perpetually amazed at the heights of consumerism and the vigorous pursuit of
creature comforts that are the essence of everyday life in this country -- and
once defined my own life as well.
for most Americans, you can choose to ignore what our government is doing in
Iraq. It's as simple as choosing to go to a website other than this
longer the occupation of Iraq continues, the more conscious I grow of the
disparity, the utter disjuncture, between our two worlds.
January 2004, I traveled through villages and cities south of Baghdad
investigating the Bechtel Corporation's performance in fulfilling contractual
obligations to restore the water supply in the region. In one village outside of
Najaf, I looked on in disbelief as women and children collected water from the
bottom of a dirt hole. I was told that, during the daily two-hour period when
the power supply was on, a broken pipe at the bottom of the hole brought in
"water." This was, in fact, the primary water source for the whole village.
Eight village children, I learned, had died trying to cross a nearby highway to
obtain potable water from a local factory.
Iraq things have grown exponentially worse since then. Recently, the World
Health Organization announced that 70% of Iraqis do not have access to clean
water and 80% "lack effective sanitation."
United States I step away from my desk, walk into the kitchen, turn on the tap,
and watch as clear, cool water fills my glass. I drink it without once thinking
about whether it contains a waterborne disease or will cause kidney stones,
diarrhea, cholera, or nausea. But there's no way I can stop myself from thinking
about what was -- and probably still is -- in that literal water hole near
my pantry and then my refrigerator to make my lunch. I have enough food to last
a family several days, and then I remember that there is a 21% rate of chronic
malnutrition among children in Iraq, and that, according to UNICEF, about one in
10 Iraqi children under five years of age is underweight.
a checking account with money in it; 54% of Iraqis now live on less than $1 a
travel safely on my bicycle whenever I choose -- to the grocery store or a
nearby city center. Many Iraqis can travel nowhere without fear of harm. Iraq
now ranks as the planet's second most unstable country, according to the 2007
Failed States Index.
are now my two worlds, my two simultaneous realities. They inhabit the same
space inside my head in desperately uncomfortable fashion. Sometimes, I almost
settle back into this bubble world of ours, but then another email arrives --
either directly from friends and contacts in Iraq or forwarded by friends who
have spent time in Iraq -- and I remember that I'm an incurably schizophrenic
journalist living on some kind of borrowed time in both America and Iraq all at
is a fairly typical example of the sorts of anguished letters that suddenly
appear in my in-box. (With the exception of the odd comma, I've left the
examples that follow just as they arrived. They reflect the stressful conditions
under which they were written.) This one was sent to my friend Gerri Haynes from
an Iraqi friend of hers:
words can describe the real terror of what's happening and being committed
against the population in Baghdad and other cities: the poor people with no
money to leave the country, the disabled old men and women, the wives and
children of tens of thousands of detainees who can't leave when their dad is
getting tortured in the Democratic Prisons, senior years students who have
been caught in a situation that forces them to take their finals to finish
their degrees, parents of missing young men who got out and never came back,
waiting patiently for someone to knock the door and say, "I am back." There
are thousands and thousands of sad stories that need to be told but nobody is
there to listen.
called my cousin in the al-Adhamiya neighborhood of Baghdad to check if they
are still alive. She is in her sixties and her husband is about seventy. She
burst into tears, begging me to pray to God to take their lives away soon so
they don't have to go through all this agony. She told me that, with no
electricity, it is impossible to go to sleep when it is 40 degrees Celsius
unless they get really tired after midnight. Her husband leaves the doors open
because they are afraid that the American and Iraqi troops will bomb the doors
if they don't respond from first door knock during searching raids. Leaving
the doors open is another terror story after the attack of the troops' vicious
dogs on a ten-month old baby, tearing him apart and eating him in the same
neighborhood just a few days ago. The troops let the dogs attack civilians.
The dogs bite them and terrify the kids with their angry red eyes in the
middle of the night. So, as you can see my dear Gerri, we don't have only one
Abu Ghraib with torturing dogs, we have thousands of Abu Ghraibs all over
Baghdad and other Iraqi cities.
was speechless. I couldn't say anything to comfort her. I felt ashamed to be
alive and well. I thought I should be with them, supporting them, and give
them some strength even if it costs me my life. I begged her to leave Baghdad.
She told me that she can't because of her pregnant daughter and her grandkids.
They are all with them in the house without their dad. I am hearing the same
story and worse every single day. We keep asking ourselves what did we do to
the Americans to deserve all this cruelness, killing, and brutishness? How can
the troops do this to poor, hopeless civilians? And why?
anybody answer my cousin why she and her poor family are going through this??
Can you Gerri? Because I sure can't.
recent weeks I had been attempting to get in touch with one of my friends, a
journalist in Baghdad. I'll call him Aziz for his safety. Beginning to worry
when I didn't receive his usual prompt response, I sent him a second email and
this is what finally came back:
old friend Dahr,
so sorry for my late reply. It is because my area of Baghdad was closed for
six days and also because I lost my cousin. He was killed by a militia. They
tortured and mutilated his body. I will try to send you his picture
remember me, friend, because I feel so tired these days and I live with this
mess now. With
all my respect,
my sadness, I asked him if there was anything I could possibly do to ease his
suffering. As a reporter in that besieged country, he is constantly exhausted
and overworked. I hesitantly suggested that perhaps he should take a little time
to rest. He promptly replied:
my old friend,
really appreciate your condolence message. Your words affected me very much
and I feel that all my friends are around me in this hard time. I live with
this mess and I do need some rest time as you advise before getting back to
work again. BUT, really, I have to continue working because there are just
very few journalists in Iraq now, and especially in my area. I have to cover
more and more everyday.
friend, everything will be ok for me. And I wish we can make some change in
our world towards peace. With
my respect to you friend,
also been corresponding with "H," who lives in the volatile Diyala province and
has been a dear friend since my first trip to Iraq. He would visit me in
Baghdad, bringing with him delicious home-cooked meals from his wife, insisting
always that I be the one to eat the first morsel.
deeply religious man, his unfailing greeting, accompanied by a big hug, would
always be: "You are my brother."
concerned about the perception that there were vast differences between Islam
and Christianity. "Islam and Christianity are not so different," he would say,
"In fact they have many more similarities than differences." He would often
discuss this with U.S. soldiers in his city.
was no admirer of imperialism. Last summer in Syria, he and I visited the
sprawling Roman ruins of Palmyra. One evening, as we stood together overlooking
the vast landscape of crumbling columns and sun-bleached walls in the setting
sun, he turned to me and said, "Mr. Dahr, please do not be offended by what I
want to say, but it makes me happy to see these ruins and remember that empires
always fall because empires are never good for most
several weeks when I received no reply to repeated emails, I wrote to "M," a
mutual friend, and received the following response:
[My dear friend],
has been very long since I have written to you. I'm sorry. I was terribly
busy. I have some very bad news. [H] was kidnapped by the members of al-Qaeda
in Diyala 25 days ago and there is no news about him up to this moment. It's a
horrible situation. One cannot feel safe in this country.
When I pressed him for more
information, he wrote me the details:
was kidnapped as he was trying to get home. He was coming to Baquba to visit
his parents, as he does every day. His oldest daughter who was with him told
him that a car carrying several men was following them from the beginning of
the street leading to his parents' home. So, when he stopped to get his car in
the garage, they got out of their car covering their faces and asked him to
come with them for questioning. People in Diyala definitely know that such a
thing means either killing or arresting for few days. You may ask why I'm sure
it is al-Qaeda. That is because no other group, including the U.S. military,
dominates the whole city like they do.
are the people of the city and we know the truth. They overwhelmingly dominate
the streets and are even stronger than the government. So, there is no doubt
about whether this was al-Qaeda or another group. You may ask how people stay
away from these very bad people. People never go in places like the central
market of Baquba. For this reason, all, and I mean all, the shops are closed;
some people have left Diyala, some have been killed, while most are kept in
someone wants to go the market, this means a bad adventure. He may be at last
found in the morgue. Al-Qaeda fought every group that are called resistance
who work against coalition [U.S.] forces or the government (policemen or Iraqi
National Guards). Nowadays, there is fighting between al-Qaeda and other
[Iraqi resistance] groups like Qataib who are known here as the honest
resistance in the streets. By the way, I forgot, when al-Qaeda kidnaps
someone, they also take his car in order that the car shall be used by them.
So, they took his car, along with him. In case he is released, he comes
without his car. I will tell you more later on.
slipped into the frantic routine all too familiar by now to countless Iraqis --
scanning the horrible reports of daily violence in Iraq looking for the faintest
clue to the whereabouts of my missing friend.
McClatchy News' July 5th roundup of daily violence for Diyala, I
source in the morgue of Baquba general hospital said that the morgue received
today a head of a civilian that was thrown near the iron bridge in Baquba Al
Jadida neighborhood today morning.
medical source in Al Miqdadiyah town northeast [of] Baquba city said that 2
bodies of civilians were moved to the hospital of Miqdadiyah. The source said
that the first body was of a man who was killed in an IED explosion near his
house in Al Mu'alimeen neighborhood in downtown Baquba city while the second
body was of a man who was shot dead near his house in Al Ballor neighborhood in
downtown Baquba city."
data for Baghdad that day read:
anonymous bodies were found in Baghdad today. 16 bodies were found in Karkh, the
western side of Baghdad in the following neighborhoods (7 bodies in Amil, 3
bodies in Doura, 2 bodies in Ghazaliyah, 1 body in Jihad, 1 body in Amiriyah, 1
body in Khadhraa and 1 body in Mahmoudiyah). 8 bodies were found in Rusafa, the
eastern side of Baghdad in the following neighborhoods (6 bodies in Sadr city, 1
body in Husseiniyah and 1 body in Sleikh.)"
could I possibly hope to find in nameless reports like these, especially when I
know that most of the Iraqi dead never make it anywhere near these reports. That
is the way it has been throughout the occupation.
July 8th, M sent me this email:
to this moment, I heard that one of my neighbors saw [H's] photo in the morgue
but I couldn't make sure yet. Traditionally, when a body is dropped in a
street and found by police, they take it to the morgue. The first thing done
is to take a photo for the dead person in the computer to let the families
know them. This procedure is followed because the number of bodies is
tremendously big. For this people cannot see every body to check for their
sons or relatives. For this, people see the photos before going to the
refrigerator. I will go to the morgue tomorrow.
next day he wrote yet again:
I went to the morgue. I saw horrible things there. I didn't see [H's] photo
among them. Some figures cannot be easily recognized because of the blood or
the face is terribly deformed. I saw also only heads; those who were slayed,
it's unbelievable. Tomorrow, we will have another visit to make sure again. In
your country, when somebody wants to go to the morgue, he may naturally see
two or, say, three or four bodies. For us, I saw hundreds today. Every month,
the municipality buries those who are not recognized by their families because
of the capacity of the morgue. Imagine!
of H's last emails to me sent soon after his return home from Syria earlier this
summer, he described driving out of Baquba one afternoon. Ominously, he
left Baquba, which was sinking in a sea of utter chaos, worries, and
instability. People there in that small town were scared of being kidnapped,
killed, murdered or expelled. The entire security situation over there was
deteriorating; getting to the worse.
that passage might be read as his epitaph.
morning I receive the latest news from M, I crawl back into bed and lie staring
at the ceiling, wondering what will become of H's wife and young children, if he
is truly dead. Barring a miracle, I assume that will turn out to be the
I go for a walk. It's California sunny and the air is pleasantly cool on my
skin. I'm aware -- as I often am -- that I never even consider looking over my
shoulder here. I'm also aware that those I pass on my walk don't know that they
aren't even considering looking over their shoulders.
American Heritage Dictionary's second definition of schizophrenia
situation or condition that results from the coexistence of disparate or
antagonistic qualities, identities, or activities: the national
schizophrenia that results from carrying out an unpopular war [italics
what I'm experiencing -- a national schizophrenia that results from our
government carrying out an unpopular war. It's what I continue to experience
with never lessening sharpness two years after my last trip to Iraq. The hardest
thing, in the California sun with that cool breeze on my face, is to know that
two realities in two grimly linked countries coexist, and most people in my own
country are barely conscious of this.
In Iraq, of course, there is nothing
disparate, no disjuncture, only a constant, relentless grinding and suffering, a
pervasive condition of tragic hopelessness and despair with no end in sight.
Dahr Jamail is an independent
journalist stationed in Iraq. Mr. Jamail submits his work to
various publications around the world, and also has a web site at http://dahrjamailiraq.com This
essay is herein reprinted with the author's permission.
(c)2007 Dahr Jamail.
All images and text are
protected by United States and international copyright law. If you would like to
reprint Dahr's Dispatches on the web, you need to include this copyright notice
and a prominent link to the DahrJamailIraq.com website. Any other use of images
and text including, but not limited to, reproduction, use on another website,
copying and printing requires the permission of Dahr Jamail. Of course, feel
free to forward Dahr's dispatches via email.
Posted September 02,
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