Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Comment: Just Living Day to Day

One Iraqi tries not to think too much about the past or the future.
By Mohammed Fawzi

During the month of March, Iraqis usually make plans for the holiday of Nawruz, be it a trip to the north of the country to enjoy springtime in the mountains, or simply a family dinner at home.

Last year at this time we made ready for war, stocking up on food and money.

On the morning of March 20, 2003, the first day of the war, I awoke to air raid sirens. I waited anxiously for the bombs to explode, but none came, so I fell asleep again.

Three days later, some 30 missiles slammed into the National Security Academy, a training place for the intelligence service, located behind our house. We picked up and moved to my uncle’s home with everything we could carry.

Still, city life remained fairly normal for the next two weeks, although at night we heard news on Radio Sawa that town after town was falling to the Coalition forces.

On April 4, US soldiers reached the outskirts of Baghdad. That was when the power went out, and the city began to dissolve into chaos.

Our uncle’s house was located on one of the safer routes out of the city.

We’d frequently find deserting Iraqi soldiers sleeping outside our home at night, waiting until sunrise to head outside the city.

We brought them food, tea and water. My uncle loaned his dishdasha, or robe, to one lieutenant colonel, so he could pass for a civilian.

Several days afterward I was driving through the city, trying to find a tyre shop that could fix a puncture, and I stumbled into a battle.

For a minute or two I watched astonished as a crowd of Saddam fidayeen fired rocket launchers from the middle of the street at an American column.

They hid behind their cars, but were shot apart by machinegun fire and tank shells. The street was full of burning vehicles and fidayeen trying to carry away their wounded.

Several hours later, I saw another group of fidayeen parading through the city. One held a severed arm and another held a head, claiming they were the remains of an American soldier.

We also began to hear about the looting.

It struck me as a natural thing to do. People were poor and oppressed. Who could blame them for taking a computer or an air conditioner, things that at any other time would be out of their reach?

I took the opportunity to pick up some ammunition for my AK-47. I later asked a religious scholar about this, and he said it was fine, as I would need it for my protection.

That was my war.

Many Iraqis call it the “liberation”. Others call it a disaster.

I prefer the term “Hawasem”, or “final reckoning”. Saddam coined that term in his speeches before the fighting, and now we use it ironically.

It’s a good term. The war did settle everything, but for good or bad we don’t know.

I have relatives in the mass graves.

My 13-year-old cousin Ahmed was arrested in 1981. We heard that it was because a friend of his spent time in a coffee shop frequented by the al-Dawa party.

We found out after the war that Ahmed was executed.

Another cousin was arrested in what Saddam called the ghawgha or, roughly, “hooliganism” of 1991. We never found out what happened to him.

For me personally, the worst thing about the regime was the bureaucracy.

I never got a passport because it would have required me to spend virtually every day of two months in the passport office.

It would have required handing over letters of good conduct from my local Baathist neighbourhood boss, along with proof I had no Iranian ancestry, proof I had spent a year and a half in the army - plus payment of 400,000 dinars, worth about 200 dollars, not an easy sum to accumulate.

Our first emotion after the war was not elation but fear.

At first, it was the realisation that we could no longer take physical security for granted, that every time a family member left the house we had to worry that he or she would be robbed, kidnapped, murdered or accidentally killed.

It quickly became obvious that the Americans were not going to do anything for us and that they did not even respect us.

I was particularly struck by one incident where a US soldier shoved his rifle barrel into the chest of my neighbour, Moataz, who was trying to get through to a police station to pick up a job application.

“You might kill him,” shouted Aqil, one of my friends. “I don’t care,” the soldier said.

In the first few days after the fall of Baghdad, walking around the city with white flags, wincing every time we saw a US military vehicle, my family concluded that Iraq was no place to live.

We made plans to move to Syria, or Tunisia, where we had relatives. However, eventually we realised that the situation was miserable, but liveable.

Maybe five or six years from now we’ll look back and think of the war as a turning point, after which life started to get better. Or maybe it will have gotten worse.

Now, however, I simply try to live from day to day, and not think too much about either the past or the future.

Mohammed Fawzi is an IWPR trainee.