“I wish the Americans had never come. They ruined our country. They planted divisions. They made us cry for the days of Saddam Hussein.” So Mohammed Rejeb, an Iraqi from Baghdad, told Arwa Damon.
CNN does have one most excellent war correspondent, unmatched, naturally, on the neoconservative channel. She is Arwa Damon, who has been covering America’s aggression abroad for almost (but not quite) as long as this column has been analyzing it.
Unlike the congenitally stupid entertainers around her on cable, right and left, Damon is a serious reporter (if a bad writer). She’s the Yin to Michael Ware’s Yang. The latter was another worthy war-time reporter in the old mold. One could only wish the gaggle on cable possessed Ware’s understanding and knowledge of the geopolitical terrain in Iraq. Naturally, this made Ware persona non grata. He’s gone. Fired, I believe.
Unlike her cretinous colleagues, little tough Arwa seldom smiles or frolics on camera. What’s there to smile about? She covers the carnage of America’s crusades abroad. Damon is also decidedly awkward when that estrogen-oozing ignoramus, Anderson Cooper, draws up a seat for her at a CNN Stupid Panel, and subjects her to his forced bathos.
Here is an excerpt of her report from Baghdad, a decade since that evil invasion:
Ten years on, one can easily look around Baghdad and see a veneer of normalcy. But nothing about Iraq or what it has been through is normal. The cloak of sorrow that hangs over the capital is more suffocating than ever, even if violence is slightly down.
“We’re not living,” one Iraqi colleague told me. “We’re just surviving.”
I think the ones who are good left, and only the bad people stayed here.
It’s as if the violence created a façade. People were so focused on staying alive they didn’t fully notice the corruption, suspicion and tribalism that had seeped into society and government. Now that attacks are down — and fewer Iraqis are killed every day — all that and more has risen to the surface.
Basma al-Khateeb and her two daughters, 22-year-old Sama and 14-year-old Zeina, are among the remnants of Baghdad’s elite — a family that could have left but chose to stay. Basma is an IT professional and well-known activist.
We’ve known Basma and her family for years — she is a regular guest on CNN — and have always marveled at their courage and determination, a love for country that trumped their desire to escape.
But even Basma is uttering what for her was unimaginable. “I lost hope six to seven months ago,” she said. “You don’t feel it’s home any more.”
She paused, crushed by the weight of her own words. “Did I really say that?”
“Now the fear is different,” she explained. “You don’t know who is in the next car. They look at you as if you are different, your clothes, or even your gestures, your body language is different. We’re not comfortable being around the streets.”
“I think the people changed,” her daughter Sama added. “I think the ones who are good left, and only the bad people stayed here.”
It’s such an emotional, mentally complex notion that the family struggles to clearly define it — to be an alien in your own country.
“It’s a different culture, it’s a tribal culture. Before, there was no kind of culture that was dominant.”
Now there is. The streets feel hostile, and people continue to be wary of each other.
For the young, there is no room to mentally expand. For a professional like Sama, it’s either adopt the “principles” of corruption or find yourself unemployed.
“I had hope in the beginning and then I lost it,” she says. “It was like climbing the stairs and then there’s no end to it. You have to go down the stairs again. And that is depressing and very disappointing.
“This is no place for us. Because if I stay here, I have to be corrupt also, to live, to survive.”
In another time and place, Sama might have pursued her passion for the arts. She plays the piano beautifully. It’s a dream she plans to pursue far from her homeland.
As for Zeina, who has known nothing but war, she too wants to leave. Her first memory is of violence. Her defining moment of the last 10 years was a church bombing in 2010 in which her best friend was killed.
For their mother, this is the only home she has known. “I don’t want to have another home.”
But Basma wants something better for her daughters.
“In a certain time, at a certain point, it’s best for them to leave,” she says. “For study or work … for them to find out about themselves (and) be strong. They will not be strong here.”
Tragically, so many Iraqis I know echo those same sentiments. For the vast majority of them, the defining moments of the last 10 years are not of Saddam Hussein’s trial and execution, the drafting of the constitution or dipping their fingers in purple ink in the first elections.
It is the moment they last saw their loved one, gave them that last hug or kiss goodbye — not knowing it would turn out to be such a precious moment — before they were inexplicably, harshly torn away.