“They deserve to get better…”: A former Iraqi soldier in a new Iraq
Welcome to the story of an Iraqi soldier turned Iraqi refugee living in America, who fled Iraq in 2006 at the height of the sectarian violence but visited only 9 months ago. I had the opportunity to interview him about his life in Iraq before and after the US invasion:
Q: What did you think of Saddam Hussein living under his rule in Iraq?
A: “Saddam Hussein he did not identify if the people are Sunni or Shiite, he said everyone was Iraqi, that’s what he said always.”
Q: How did the changes in the economy affect you personally while you were living in Baghdad?
A: “I tried to apply for a job in the security force sometime, they will ask me, what tribe do you come from? And according to the tribe they can recognize if I am Sunni or Shiite. If you are Shiite, you have to apply for a job in the military or the ministry for the Shiite, and that will be better for you. If you are Sunni you have to go to the Sunni part and ask their ministers to give you a job”
“As example, I was a soldier during the Saddam Hussein regime. I was a soldier with the Iraqi army, and I make about 6,000 dinar. At that time, it was about $3 per month. Now the soldier make about $700 per month.”
Q: Tell me, why sectarianism in Iraq, and why now?
A: “You know what the reason for this problem…The reason for this problem is because the last government, you know Saddam Hussein government, is from Sunni, and because Saddam Hussein supported the Sunni that make the Shiite sometimes hate the Sunni. You know in my country 70% of the people is Shiite…so now Shiite want revenge. You know, we have the government now so we have to do for Sunni same thing what they did before.”
Q: How would you describe the political changes in Iraq before and after the US invasion?
A: “Before everyone scared from the government—everyone, no one can say any joke or anything with the name Saddam Hussein on it, or anyone from his followers, or anyone from the Baath party. Even in your mind, even in your dreams…But now, nobody scared from the government…even our President now he can say joke on himself. Under Saddam Hussein government you can say there is no religion…no one in the public asked you if you are Sunni or Shiite. Now the problem is from the government and from the militias.”
Q: What effect did militias have on overall security in Iraq?
“Al-Sadr is a little criminal…these problem started form the bad people from the militias, not from the government, these problems started from the militias who tried to kill everyone, Sunni or Shiite, anyone that is against them. They tried to make religion as a cover, to cover them from the bad words. “Now everyone is scared from the militias, not from the government’
Q: How were women treated before and after the fall of the Hussein regime?
“They say the women should wear the hijab, should stay away from the make-up”
Q: Does current government represent everybody?
A: “Actually, I think it represents all, the Sunni and the Shiite. The problem with the old government was there was one man, so everyone in the Iraqi government follow what this one man say. Now in Iraq, we have…more than one person representing the government. The president is Kurdish, the prime minister is Shiite, and for the parliament they have the Sunni”
“The government, they need this, they need these differences[between the people] to be bigger to make all the Shiite always elect them in the election, and the Sunni want the same thing. So always, when they start the election, they say, hey we are the best people representing you better than the other, because they are from the Sunni”
Q: What effect did disbanding the Iraqi army have on Iraq?
A: “They[US military] did something bad, because they released the Iraqi army, and that’s a big problem what they did for my country. All of the big officers…when they had to leave the Iraqi army, they still needed money to feed their families, so they joined the Mujaheeden, or the bad people, like the terrorists to get some money to feed their families. This could have been avoided if Us kept Iraqi army, and if he pay them with better pay, this would make a big difference now.”
Before the US invade Iraq, you felt safe, wherever you go, you will feel safe….you can do whatever you want, anytime. But you don’t have any money at that time, you’re bankrupt, you know what I’m saying. Now, you have to think several times before you try to leave at night because the situation is not safe”
Ahmed left me with one statement that I think of often:
“My country is a very rich country and the people in Iraq are a very kind people, so they deserve to get better.”