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

Imagined Community

Speaking Iraqi to Iraqi, one observer sees beyond the division and discord plaguing the country in the aftermath of the war.
By Ghida al-Juburi

I write today as an Iraqi to say that for all the destruction, tragedy and heartbreak that accompanied the war on Iraq, there was a brief period after the American conquest of Baghdad when I held great optimism.

In the midst of the tears we shed for friends and family sacrificed, and for hungry, wounded and terror-stricken Iraqis, I had hope.

In the midst of the toxic air that children running in the streets breathed as bombs burned Baghdad and weapons blew apart the bodies and minds of those hijacked by an oppressive regime, I had hope.

In the midst of our fear at knowing that, in investing some hope in this war, our hatred for Saddam Hussein and his regime had outweighed our love for an ancient land, its people and history, I had hope.

In the midst of all of this, I held onto a hope that in this struggle for Iraqi democracy we would find Iraqi unity.

I imagined Iraqis relishing in the pleasure of this long-awaited moment to take the country back to its unforgotten beauty, to a time when there was no Sunni v. Shia, or Arab v. Kurd, or any other of the absurd divisions that now flood the news and invade every private and public discourse.

I imagined Iraqis telling the uninformed that although we have our differences, the bitter ones were created and exacerbated by Saddam Hussein and his destructive regime.

I imagined a breath of fresh air fuelled by hope and "liberation" that would blow away the smoke of war and grief.

I imagined exiled Iraqis in every country of the world taking this opportunity to lead with an insatiable thirst, energy and generosity of spirit to unite Iraqis inside and outside their beloved homeland and to pull each other out of the chaos of a generation battered by war and sanctions. This new unity would show the entire world that Iraq, this cradle of civilization, is capable of harmony and democracy.

I imagined that if the world would just hold us up to the task, we would perfect what other nations have experimented with. We would strengthen our commitment to justice and democracy and protect ourselves against oppressive leaders and occupiers of all sorts.

And now I find myself in a firestorm of angry proclamations, heated disputes, personal attacks and plain dirty fights between Iraqi and Iraqi, Arab and Arab, Muslim and Muslim. Instead of the war bringing us together, its aftermath is tearing us apart.

Do not misunderstand me. Discourse is valuable. Debate is healthy. Disagreement is part of democracy. But they do not turn brothers against each other. They do not create new hatred and new bloodshed. There is a definite distinction here.

In the few weeks since the US-led invasion of Iraq began, we have destroyed the merciless power that was destroying us. We were unified in our detestation of the regime and our desire to topple it, regardless of how we believed such sentiment should be exercised. But the unified Iraqi desire to end an era is already disintegrating in bitterness. A world that had sympathy for us as a people is watching carefully to see if we will fulfil the impression they have of the Middle East as a region whose inhabitants are incapable of finding democracy.

As an Iraqi speaking to Iraqis, I urge you to imagine that there is no force and no religion that can divide us. Imagine our people living once again as one. Imagine that this can and should and will be done.

Ghida al-Juburi is an Iraqi-American attorney working in Washington, D.C.