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Remembering the Days of the Invasion: Iraq 2003

Iraqi families were divided and separated around the world.

Claudia Lefko and Faiza Al-Araji, Amman Jordan 2012. (Photo: Courtesy of author)

Claudia Lefko and Faiza Al-Araji, Amman Jordan 2012. (Photo: Courtesy of authors)

"Am I mad, to see what others do not see, or are they mad who are responsible for all that I am seeing?"  ~Leo Tolstoy

Who cares about Iraq and Iraqis anymore my Iraqi friends ask me. Who indeed.  And even if you care, as I do, what more can be said. It seems everything that can and should have been said has been said.  And everything written that could be written.  Not just about Iraq , the suffering inflicted and the suffering that continues there, but everything already said and written about the ravages and insanity of war…of any war. 

Still, something must be said.  We are in the time of the 2003 US Invasion of Iraq  (March 20 - May 1). I think of the invasion, the second war the US launched against Iraq, as the original sin of my time—a  life-changing, country-changing, world-changing event. But, the question remains: what to say? 

My long-time friend and comrade Faiza Al-Araji has given permission to quote from The Iraq War Blog: An Iraqi Family’s Inside View of the First Year of the Occupation,  written with her sons, and published in 2008.   

I met Faiza Al-Araji at a conference in NYC in 2006; we became friends.  She was living with her family in Amman, having fled Baghdad after the kidnapping of one of her sons.  I was traveling back-and-forth to Jordan, working on projects with Iraqi refugee children and I often stayed with Faiza and her family.   

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Today, George W. Bush gave Saddam Hussein forty-eight hours to leave Iraq or face war.

Although everyone in the city went to work, the atmosphere is depressing and the smell of war is all over the place.  Already Baghdad is preparing for war. The streets are full of sandbags for fighting positions and there are huge holes in the ground full of burning oil to prevent the American fighters from seeing the city clearly.  People are running to collect food and other important things before hiding in their houses; everyone is trying to see their friends and family before going to hide. Who can tell? Maybe this will be the last time we meet.

The US launched “shock and awe” on Friday, March 21, with 1,000 strike sorties against targets in Baghdad, Kirkuk, Mosul, and else- where.  There was a three-hour blitz in Baghdad “…at times bringing a new blast every ten seconds…” wrote Anthony Shadid.

Saturday March 22, 2003

Last night was a disaster.  The missile attacks were so huge that they shook houses and broke windows.  The room was shaking; the curtains blew in the air after every missile exploded, and there were just a few seconds between one missile and the next.  Now we can see the ugly face of war.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Last night’s bombing was short, but concentrated.  Most of it was far from our part of the city.

In the silence and darkness of last night we could hear the noise of the American fighters flying in the sky over Baghdad from time to time, and I wondered, couldn’t this military pilot get himself another job?  Did he really try to find other alternatives before accepting this evil job? Hiding under the covers, I suddenly realized that this pilot, in the eyes of his countrymen, is a great hero, but from the Iraqi perspective, he is an evil criminal.

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Strong winds blew dust around today, but at least there were no explosions.  The dust became very dense in the afternoon; the sky was orange and sometimes red and I couldn’t breathe because of the concentrated sand in the air.  The funny thing is that we couldn’t close our windows. If we closed them, a single explosion nearby would break all the glass. We spent the night choking on the sand.

Iraq and Iraqis were disappeared from the “family of  man” and the family of nations, relegated into a state of collective solitary confinement in 1990, when UN Sanctions were imposed against them.  They suffered on, out-of-sight and out of mind, through the 1990s and into the early 2000s as the corporate media focused all its attention on the dictator Saddam Hussein rather than on a population sinking into a humanitarian crisis, struggling to survive in a country being destroyed by sanctions and devastated by the first Gulf War in 1991.

The 2003 invasion piled on greater levels of collapse —of communities, infrastructure, and institutions—leaving more death, misery and systemic dysfunction in its wake.  Iraqis who could not flee or who chose to stay in Iraq after the invasion continued to be isolated from the outside world; isolated by the US occupation, the ongoing instability and extreme level of violence.  And, increasingly Iraqis found themselves living in a country and a culture they no longer recognized.

Wednesday, December 31, 2003   

It’s the last day of 2003; it was hell of a year.  

It has been nine months since the terror broke out and things are still getting worse.  The majority of Iraqis still think Saddam was better than the U.S. authorities here. Promises were made, speeches were made, money was spent, and contract were signed.  But, I’m still living in a country where looters and killers have more freedom than I do; where the very simple basics in life are not available; where civilians get killed because soldiers are not careful handling their weapons; where people are not allowed to voice their opinions in the public media for fear that they may “inflame the passions against coalition forces.”  I am not living in the same country I used to live in a year ago. I am not living in the country I hoped it would be. I am not living in the country that I was promised I would live in, but nonetheless, thank God I AM still living.

Tuesday, January 9, 2004

Who loves Iraq?  Who wants to see Iraq strong, united and harmonious?  Other people have other purposes. Only God knows the truth.

I am afraid that the occupation will create a reality on the ground that will be difficult to change later on.  The occupation will leave behind a leadership that is favorable to it, that continues to implement its vision and purposes, even after the army has left.  And then they will say, “Go ahead, have elections.” Elections to decide what? If the essential matters have already been decided without involving the people, what is the point of having elections after the fact?  Is this the democracy that we have been dreaming about for so long? Are we such an ignorant nation that we don’t know what is in our best interest? Or is that the strangers can’t stop meddling in our business and planning our future?  What gave them the right to enter our house, and make themselves masters of it?

Epilogue—Faiza Al- Araji, March 22, 2020

I was in Baghdad,  during the invasion in 2003, with my husband and three children. We left in 2005;  too many bad incidents affected our life there. We moved to Amman. Azzam and I stayed in Jordan, but the three boys left.   Raed moved to America to work with different NGOs to defend Iraq. Majed left to Egypt to study and Khalid traveled to Saudi Arabia to work. 

Now I am living with two sons and their families in Canada; Raed lives in the US. We left the Middle East forever.

This is the consequence of the war. Iraqi families were divided and separated around the world.

Claudia Lefko

Claudia Lefko, a long-time educator, activist and advocate for children, is the founding director of The Iraqi Children's Art Exchange and its project, Baghdad Resolve: An International Collaboration to Improve Cancer Care in Iraq.

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