She was sitting alone in the dimly lit living room. Light was beaming from the television as the sound of the news reporter echoed across the sombre house.
I walked closer to her and switched on the remaining lights. Her face was illuminated but her bloodshot eyes remained fixed on the screen.
Her lashes were wet as she ran a tissue across her cheek while another tear streamed down the other and fell softy on her lap, staining her jeans.
I looked over at the television displaying footage of Baghdad’s skies ignited from rocket launches as gun shots fired in the distance of the capital city. It was March 20 2003, 5.33 local time.
I looked back at her, she looked at me with pleading eyes and shook her head, “I miss them,” my mum cried. I sat beside her and held her.
We watched on as the Al Jazeera story marked the 10th Anniversary of the 2003 Iraq Invasion.
It has been 10 years since the U.S and its allied forces, including Australia, decided to invade Iraq on what would soon become known as a false premise that Iraq had possession of weapons of mass destruction.
A 10 year invasion that according to IraqiBodycount.org has cost 111,390 to 121,736 Iraqis; three of which included my maternal grandfather, grandmother and uncle.
What was alleged to liberate and bring about ‘democracy’ to Iraqis or what has been neatly packaged as ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’, has proven to be nothing but a political error for the U.S But for Iraq, it has manifested itself as a crippling social, economic and religious catastrophe.
Today’s Iraq is not the optimistic ideal of freedom that former U.S President George Bush had so foolishly envisioned for the nation. The ‘new Iraq’ is founded on government corruption, sectarian conflict, terrorism, detrimental health crises, unemployment and a diminishing education system.
With checkpoints littered across the country, Iraq is currently struggling to rebuild after the destruction. Sectarian conflict across Sunni and Shia majority cities including Baghdad and Najaf has erupted, hindering any chance at unified progression.
In December, Sunnis in the Western city of Ramadi held demonstrations against the government of Nouri Maliki. Since then, the demonstrations have continued to escalate with the country’s minority Sunni group, demanding reforms and called for Nouri Al Maliki to step down.
But sectarian conflict is just one of the many challenges that confront the ‘new Iraq’. Earlier this month I attended an intimate conference hosted by the Asia Pacific Journalism Centre (APJC).
The APJC invited early to mid career young journalists to mark the anniversary in the hopes that Australian mainstream media will help commemorate as well.
The conference featured an extensive list of Iraq War experts including: President of Iraq’s Journalists’ Sayndicate, Moaid Allami, Women’s and Human Rights activist Basam Alkhateeb, Research fellow at the Centre for Citizenship and Globalisation at Deakin University, Benjamin Isakhan and International Development professional Sudipto Mukerjee.
The group in attendance had opportunities to delve deeper into some of the underlying issues that are preventing progression in the region. During the conversation one issue stood out the most which shook me not only as a journalist but as an Iraqi. It was the educational crisis that Iraq is suffering from.
One speaker revealed the lagging educational system currently in place, he said, “One professor lecturing engineering at Baghdad University told me the curriculum he was teaching his students was the same curriculum he was taught by his teacher.” But the lack of development is not only exclusive to the education system, it extends itself to medicine, technology and infrastructure.
Iraq has traditionally struggled with electricity and communication, however, since the 2003 invasion, the situation has only deteriorated producing what I term ‘web of chaos’. Thousands of wires hang dangerously low above suburban streets across the country- all scrambling to ‘connect’ Iraqi residents to electricity poles that are only able to withstand producing six hours of electricity per day… if that. Leaving residents relying on generators.
It dawned on me that what was once the ‘cradle of civilisation’ had been reduced to a third world country. How is it that Iraq can ‘rebuild’ when the most basic foundations of civilisation like medicine, education and technology are limping 20 years behind in comparison to the rest of the world? How can the U.S, U.K and Australia confidently say that they have equipped Iraq with the tools necessary to create a ‘new Iraq’ that serves its people?
The final part of the APJC conference featured live crosses to Baghdad including special guest with Australian Donna Mulhearn, former ‘human shield’ and journalist. Donna who is currently in Iraq is investigating the detrimental effects of the alleged use of depleted Uranium by invading forces in Basra and Fallujah.
In 2004, Fallujah, located west of Baghdad, was the epicentre of US conflict. Since then, chronic birth deformities have increased by a staggering 1500 per cent, and babies are contracting different types of cancers.
Neurologists and obstetricians treating babies in Fallujah’s general Hospital say on average they see two children born with deformities a day, particularly in the spinal cord, nervous system and head; causes they could not explain. Others, however, are more confident in identifying the cause.
Former Iraqi Minister of Women’s Affairs, Dr Nawal Majeed a-Sammarai, has lobbied the UN general assembly to conduct a full investigation into the defects and the cause.
Donna Mulhearn revealed that while American and Australian soldiers are protected against uranium dust and other toxic pollution, contaminated wreckage remains exposed on streets, water ways and areas where children play.
While the U.S admitted to using only white phosphorus, the Iraqi Ministry of Environment revealed that more than 12 locations in Fallujah had been contaminated with radiation. Since then, Iraqi officials have issued statements recommending that women living in Fallujah not conceive children.
In October 2012 a report, published in the Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, found “compelling evidence” linking the number of birth defects and miscarriages to US and allied bombings.
It found of all the babies surveyed by the researchers in Fallujah, more than 50 per cent of those born between 2007 and 2010 had birth defects. Before the US assaults on Fallujah in 2004, that figure had been around 10 percent.
The study further revealed that more than 45 percent of pregnant women in Fallujah experienced miscarriages in the two-year period following the US assaults on the city. By contrast, around 10 percent of the city’s pregnant women miscarried prior to the US attack.
The condition that Iraq has been left in is not merely a result of the U.S led invasion, although a large contributor, the plight of Iraq and its people is also attributed to two Gulf wars and a third war that is often neglected… ‘The silent war’ also known as the sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council.
Beginning in August 1990 and ending in 2003, the UN enforced a trade and financial embargo on the region in an attempt to persuade the government to withdraw from Kuwait and indirectly destabilise Hussein’s dictatorship. However, these sanctions inevitably crippled the Iraqi people.
In the time span of the sanctions, increased rates of malnutrition, lack of medical supplies, and diseases from lack of clean water were reported. The economy had been heavily dependent on the exportation of oil but the sanctions imposed restricted trade, forcing a huge decline in revenue for the nation and consequently a drastic decline in access to medicine and basic food supplies.
The devastating sanctions saw food security diminish, resulting in 100,000 to over 500,000 children dead as estimated by Gulf Child Health Survey.
At the APJC conference, the president of the Iraq War Inquiry Group and former secretary of the Department of Foreign affairs and Trade, Paul Barratt gave his perspective on Iraq. In hi address, Paul spoke of the obligations that Australia must fulfil to assist Iraq in its rebuilding efforts, including launching an official investigation into the Iraq War.
Paul said it was vital that an Iraq War inquiry be undertaken as the move to join the U.S as an allied force raised serious questions about the Australian governments honesty and accountability. The Iraq invasion he continued, left questions hanging including what process was undertaken pre invasion and how did the government reconcile conflicting intelligence assessments?
As the 10 year anniversary fast approaches, there have been so signs of a serious discussion to launch such an investigation. Long after I left the conference one quote Paul said remained with me, “We always find the resources to fund war but can never find the resources to fund peace.” These words sent sharp stabs not because I am an Iraqi but because I am also an Australian whose home country was responsible in destroying the home of my family.
What struck me the most about hearing first-hand accounts of the situation in Iraq was the level of sheer desperation Iraqis have reached. A resounding feeling of defeat and exhaustion lay beneath the weary eyes of each person we crossed live to in Baghdad.
I realised that the legacy of the illegal intervention crumbled not only infrastructure, education, health and the economy but it has destabilised what used to be a long standing tradition of Iraqi national pride. Regardless of whether you were Sunni, Shia, Christian, Kurdish or Turkmen… You were proud of Iraq and what it stood for. The war’s legacy has destroyed this.
After hearing all the stories one unified theme emerged… The ‘new Iraq’ is worse off now than it was 10 years ago especially in security. I left the APJC holding back tears at my people’s heartache and struggle. I walked away feeling proud of Iraqi people’s ability to overcome adversity time and time again. I walked away having a glimmer of hope for Iraq’s future. But above all, I walked away with a heavy heart knowing that despite time progressing Iraq’s wounds have not healed.
As published in Youthink magazine