Rebuilding, uncertainty remain 10 years after invasion of Iraq
BAGHDAD -- The war that arrived a decade ago is still too painful and too controversial to be taught to schoolchildren or subjected to serious academic study at universities, and the local news media are too busy reporting on the latest bombings, protests and political disagreements to care much about an anniversary.
So as historians, pundits and former government officials in Washington and London produce a wave of reminiscences on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq -- symposiums have been held, books written, new studies published on the conflict's toll, human and financial -- Iraqis are more concerned with the present.
On Friday morning at the pet market in the center of this city, Hasim al-Shimari watched two roosters fighting it out and offered a rejoinder to those marking his war's anniversary.
"You see these people," he said. "They are here to sell birds to earn some money to help them live. People are not interested in that. They are desperate and want to see real change, so they've stopped looking at the news or remembering past events."
In recent interviews here, most Iraqis, like al-Shimari, say they have given little or no thought to the looming anniversary, which falls on Wednesday, though the sight of foreign television news crews conducting stand-ups around the city this week will remind them that the war, for the conquerors anyway, is something to be reflected upon.
"If our situation were better than this, we would surely remember that day when the Americans came to free Iraq and gave us the chance to build a better future," al-Shimari said. "But the Americans didn't give us that chance. They did all the things possible to ensure that Iraq is going to be ruined."
Here, the war is not for the history books but rather an event whose outcome is still uncertain.
"I don't even remember how old I am," said Abdullah Fadil, who has sold tea since 1982 outside a mosque in Adhamiya, a predominantly Sunni neighborhood in the capital. "I wake up each day with a thousand problems, so why should I remember that?"
The local news media are focused on covering the rise in sectarian tensions and protests that have spread in predominantly Sunni regions.
"I know that among my journalist friends no one is willing or has the attention to write about it or do any reporting," said Naseer Awam, the director of the Iraqi News Agency. He expressed regret that Iraqis might not gain a proper historical perspective, saying the news media "should have prepared extensive reports and a narrative of events that began with the start of the U.S.-led invasion and its consequences."
As a result, he said, Iraqis might not "understand what this brought to Iraq and the entire region."
Another journalist, Sabah Sellawi, the editor of the newspaper Maysan, said, "The instability in Iraq is more important than this day."
Besides, if any anniversary is important to Iraqis, it is April 9 -- the day Baghdad fell to U.S. forces, and exuberant Iraqis, with an assist from U.S. Marines, pulled down a statue of Saddam Hussein in a city park -- not the anniversary of the start of the bombing of Baghdad.
The central legacy of the war, many experts say, is a political system midwifed by the United States in which the spoils of power are divided along sectarian and ethnic lines. As such, compromise -- in the streets and in Parliament -- has been nearly impossible. Today, the notion of a national identity that supersedes the sectarian seems a fantasy.
"What people used to dream about was an Iraq for all Iraqis," said Ahssan al-Shmmary, a political science professor at Baghdad University. "What was a dream for Iraqis has become a nightmare for Iraqis."
He added, "That's why people are not thinking of this."
Al-Shmmary's comments belie his own fate. As a Shiite Muslim, he has seen his life improve enormously as the war upended a social order in which the minority Sunni population held the levers of power. "Before 2003, I was like a slave, and nobody knew about me," he said. "Now I feel like I exist in this world."
He said that he had "become a star political analyst."
Sunni Muslims have not fared as well, and many Iraqis expressed a sense that sectarian tensions were worsening.
On Thursday night, Fadil, the tea seller, sat at an outdoor cafe across the street from the mosque in Adhamiya, which for months has been the site of demonstrations -- of which he has been an enthusiastic participant -- by Sunnis after Friday prayer. A row of armored sport utility vehicles nearby indicated a visit from the ruling elite that, with its traffic-stopping convoys, its unkept promises to at least keep the lights on and the streets clean, not to mention what many characterize as its corruption, seems ever more disconnected from ordinary people.
Fadil, a Sunni who said he used to work in Saddam Hussein's feared secret police (he was only a cook, he insisted, and never carried a weapon), said he could not afford a house and was struggling to provide for his wife and four daughters. He said he used to earn extra money cleaning the streets in his neighborhood, but then the government gave the jobs to Shiites from other parts of the city.
"The Sunnis are being neglected here," Fadil said. "They are not in the security forces. They are not in the government."
In other words, he has more pressing concerns than remembering a day he would rather forget.
"There was nothing accomplished, so why should I remember it?" he asked.
At the pet market, Karrar Habeeb, a 22-year-old carpenter, paused, surprised to be asked about what was surely the defining event of his youth.
"I didn't know about it," Habeeb said of the anniversary. "Are we still talking about the Americans? I don't think we need to do any kind of celebrating or make an effort to remember that day. I think even the Americans wish they could forget it."
Yasser Ghazi contributed reporting.