Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Iraq: Where the Living Envy the Dead

Touching post from MSNBC.com's WorldBlog by Jane Arraf, talking about how Iraqis now live their daily lives under the stress and fear of car bombings, kidnappings, assassinations, and sectarian violence. It's easy for us to see it on the news and know it's there. It's a totally different thing for it to be your daily life. This piece gives at least a taste of what that must be like. Yet another response to those who would tell you how much better life is for the Iraqis after our invasion.

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Whatever most of us dream of, it isn't normally to die a natural death.

This is a country that's been scarred by the last four years. For many of the families and friends of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians who have been killed since 2003, scarred much more by this war than the years they survived under Saddam Hussein.

"Dying normally has become a fantasy to Iraqis -- a wish we dream of having." These are the words written by one of our talented Iraqi staff. He can't write under his own name for security reasons, but here are some of the things that weigh on his mind.

Unlikely fears
When most of us hesitate before calling a friend it's not because we think they might be dead.

"Every time I want to call someone I think a million times before I decide to make the call," he explained. "Every time I call someone and the recording tells me that the line has been switched off or is out of the coverage area I immediately think that they might have been killed or kidnapped and I hope from the bottom of my heart that I'm wrong."

When most people worry about their children, they don't worry that their children might grow up without them.

"I'm trying not to think of the moment when my wife will try to phone me and the recording will tell her that my phone has either been switched off or is out of the coverage area and it will be because I've been killed. I'm trying not to think of what she might tell my 2-year-old son or the daughter we're expecting about the father they never got a chance to know."

Last week my colleague heard that a friend had lost eight brothers in the bombing in the Sharja market in Baghdad. When most of us mourn friends or relatives who have died, the list doesn't normally stretch into the dozens.

The list grows
"A few days ago our ex-neighbor was shot to death after a lot of threats. He was a Sunni who worked with the Americans. He thought we didn't know he worked with them but everyone knew. I think he was killed for that reason. He has three children. I didn't like him, but you can't ignore that he's a human being. He died in an ugly way. They said they surprised him while he was standing beside his shop - they shot him and he was trying to run up the stairs until they shot and killed him.

"Last month my friend's father who was an honest, modest man was assassinated by al-Qaida terrorists because he is Shiite. He was 63 years old. They had moved out of their house in a Sunni neighborhood but he came back and saw strangers in their house -- he argued with him and they took him away. We searched everywhere, but everyone told us it was al-Qaida -- they don't forgive and even the Sunni insurgents don't dare to confront them.

"The same day another friend's father, who was the nicest person that I ever knew, was assassinated by unknown insurgents. I used to play with his son in his house when we were children. He was Shiite. He was 65 years old.

"The night after Saddam Hussein's execution, a friend's brother who is Sunni -- from the same tribe as Saddam -- was killed in front of his parents because of his family name. He was 18.

"Last year, the Mahdi militia came and took away two sons of one of my neighbors. They were 24 and 26. They did it in front of him and he couldn't even say anything in case they took away his third son. They didn't even tell him why. They killed them and dumped their bodies at the college. He was really upset that I didn't go to his sons' funeral. I thought I would be killed too if we went."

Most of us haven't come that close to death. Most of us don't believe there are things worse than dying.

Worse than dying
"When I think of the people I know who have been killed I keep asking myself, what did they say to the killers? Did they beg them? Did they pray? What did they do? I told all my friends that I'm not afraid to die -- I'm just afraid I'll beg my killers to let me live."

"What does life mean?" asked my 31-year-old colleague. "I don't know, but I can guarantee to you all that I know a lot more about death."

So when we talk endlessly about the impact of this war and whether Iraqis are better off, I think we should ask the Iraqis who have stayed here. Because most of us can't even imagine what that's like.

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