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Friday, March 24, 2017

2003: ‘Bombing Us to Democracy’

I frequently face questions about 2003 and what happened then. When people here in London knew that I witnessed that war, they often ask me describe, give opinion, analyze the experience of war. 
Their questions came with expected answers. Pro-war interrogators expect me to confirm that war needed to happen. They wanted me to satisfy their belief that their uniform boys saved the primitive Iraq from its demonic dictatorship. They saluted their troops as saviors of the world and they wanted me to concur.
On the other hand, there was the anti-war activists, who stormed the streets one month before the war, calling their politicians to stop the war, not to push their pretty boys into a war they did not need to fight. They wanted me to assure them that before the war, Iraqis were fine and had everything under control.
Both camps seek simple answers to validate what they think is right. For me, no answer can sound right.
By the time of the war, Iraqis had suffered 13 years of sanctions, barely surviving after the destruction of the country’s infrastructure in the first Gulf war 1991. Appalled by Saddam’s overnight invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, the international community in the form of the UN security council decided to punish Saddam for his recklessness by depriving his people from their daily-life necessities. 
Even after storming the country with barrage of bombs, and destroying every aspect of life in it, even after withdrawing from Kuwait, the international community still thought Iraqis were dangerous and should be kept in check and starve.
While we were hardly living, the world woke up into the terror of the 9/11. For some reason, Saddam was to blame, and Iraqis should pay. George W Bush’s administration started its move to topple Saddam and “liberate” Iraqis.
The world decided what was needed in Iraq was democracy, American flavored democracy. They prepared their bull, and directed it toward our china shop. Operation Democracy started.   
During the first hours of Thursday, March 20th 2003, I woke up to distant bombing approaching slowly but steadily. I went downstairs. One of the civil defense tips we learner in 1991 war was not to stay in the upper floors. But security procedures aside, i wanted to seek refuge in my parents room, the way I did in 1991. With every step down the sound of  bombing grew stronger. My mom had just finished praying and dad was awake as well. I asked him for assurance that it was war again but he dismissed the bombing as far away, and wouldn’t continue. Was he trying to brush off my fear or he did thought that these would be just like Clinton's brief efforts in 1998? Against the evidence of the growing roars, I believed my dad, and tried to get outside and see what was happening. Naively I thought that I would be able to see colorful glares in the sky like fireworks. My mom panicked and  shouted at me to stay in. My mother was less calm than my father. 
I waited the sounds to get lower and die away but they didn't. I thought like 1998 when the daylight would come, the bombing would stop but it only get stronger. Finally the siren was set off warning us into doomsday. (I always hated this sound; since the first time I heard it in 1986. Couldn't they come up with better sign of warning than this frightening sound that trumpets the apocalypse more than the barrage of bombs falling on our heads). 
The siren asserted the situation of war. The US decided to bomb us to democracy. Apparently many of us did not to be ‘liberated’. Iraqis were resisting the ‘liberation’ drive of US and its allies.
Few days later, the liberation fa├žade was pulled down, to allow the face of invasion and destruction to show its real spots. Infrastructure was targeted: no electricity, no clean water, and civilians were randomly shot. The US-led coalition probably thought that Iraqis would simply welcome them into their country, but were surprised when they found, instead, that Iraqis were ready to die for their own country. We might have hated Saddam, we might have wished him to leave, but definitely we didn’t want foreign occupation. It was too complicated for the Americans to understand.
When they started to approach Baghdad, ahead of them spread the news of the atrocities their bull committed in every place they democratized. Most people started to leave Baghdad to protect their the vulnerable members of their families from the coming horrors. We left one week before the fall of Baghdad, when rumors of the approaching tanks warned the families in our street of what might happen if these tanks invaded the place.
I remember that day we left our house, heading east toward the unknown. I thought I would never come back again. That morning before we left, I saw airplanes bombing the surrounding areas. I was mesmerized in the garden watching the glare of rockets hitting somewhere nearby. For me this was the end of times. I left all my books, my diaries, everything I liked in the house knowing that I was not to see them again.
We spent a week displaced, in palm tree orchard in Dyala, east of Baghdad. I thought this was going to be my life till we heard the news of the fall of my city, the fall of Baghdad. The liberation process was complete. Iraqis should go home. We were squeezed again in my father’s small car and headed back toward home. In the way I saw the first glimpses of American democracy: people looting their own country. The American marines stationed at checkpoints watched smiling: operation democracy was complete.