The Persistance of Fear In Iraq
Some of the Iraq war’s best journalism has come from Iraqi reporters writing in the first person for Western papers. Think McClatchy’s Inside Iraq blog, or the occasional Los Angeles Times piece, or The New York Times’ Baghdad Bureau blog. (To say nothing of great non-journalistic Iraqi blogs like the lost, lamented Riverbend.)
Yesterday’s Washington Post had a prime example: K.A. Ibrahim introduced us to a Shiite neighbor, Abu Zahraa, who fled anti-Shiite violence in 2006. Ibrahim cares for Abu Zahraa’s house, tending to his rose pots.
It seems as if the violence ebbs far enough for Abu Zahraa to return. He comes to terms with the Sunni family squatting his old house — refugees themselves from sectarian violence — but decides to sell the house instead and remain in a Shiite neighborhood.
He looked at me and said: “That feeling of peace and security is gone. We, as Shiites, can never feel safe in a mostly Sunni neighborhood again. I can’t live here anymore. The risk to my life and to my wife’s is too high.”
He hugged me again and said, choking up, “But we shall always remain friends.”
And there you start to glimpse the horror of the Iraq war.
There’s a temptation in the U.S., where Iraq is more of an abstraction than a country of 25 million people, to view U.S. policy as determinative of Iraqi behavior. Drop violence beyond a certain point, and normalcy returns.
But human beings don’t act that way — trauma persists long after the shooting stops, and in Iraq, the shooting hasn’t even stopped. The Samarra mosque bombing, which President George W. Bush has misrepresented as representing some kind of start to the sectarian violence, was February 2006, an eye-blink away — particularly for Iraqis, a people with a sense of the presence of history.
Has the U.S. really gotten over its own civil war?