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?
I spoke to a Iraqi doctor Khalid who once worked in Iraq before becoming a reguee in 2006. He now works as a doctor in the US.
Q: Describe what it means to be an Iraqi before and after the US invasion.
A: “Before the US invasion Iraq was geographically different than Iraq after the US invasion…After the US invasion we started to think about specific areas. Where you were standing you thought that’s what Iraq is, because you lost the meaning of Iraq. Socially…[after the US invasion] people who lived in Iraq and carried the Iraqi citizenship they were more Iraqi than others. People started seeing themselves as more or less Iraqi based on where you were from or what you believed. Before the US invasion an Iraqi was an Iraqi everywhere, even Iraqis outside of Iraq”
Q: Describe the security situation in Iraq before and after the US invasion.
A: “The rate of violence increased so much in Iraq…Yeah there was some violence when Saddam Hussein was in power but nothing compared to after Saddam Hussein. We didn’t want to leave the country when Saddam Hussein ruled. And the people who wanted to leave the country they didn’t want to leave the country to be safe. They wanted to leave to have more financial resources or to be more free to live their life. Nobody left because it was not safe, unless they had a political opinion against Saddam Hussein, and against his regime. After the US occupation even if you weren’t involved in…anything you might get attacked by somebody because they create the violence in the area”
Q: How did the disbanding of the Iraqi army affect Iraq?
Welcome to the story of a man who knows what it feels to be ‘secular’ after the fall of the Hussein regime. The following is an interview I conducted with this man, under the code name Hamid, in late February 2012.
Hamid described himself as secular Iraqi. He told me “Iraq by nature was secular, but now in Iraq secularism means anti-religion, instead of the idea of not wanting to mix politics with religion”
Q: How would you describe life under Saddam Hussein?
A: “Saddam executed anyone who was against him. Anyone who challenged him or his family was prosecuted regardless of religion”
Q: How did the US invasion impact Baghdad economically?
A: “We need engineers, we need books, we need people. If our universities are staffed by Iraqis, and the mobs are scaring the professors and educated working class out of the country, who is going to build the country? It was very difficult for people to go to work because of lack of security…and say if I own a factory, without electricity, how can I hire workers? If one loses his job, you can expect him to do anything to feed his kids.”
Q: Would you say there were any physical divisions in Iraq after the US invasion?
This is the story of a man I skyped who is currently living in Baghdad and works with the Ministry of the Interior within the Iraqi government. I refer to him as Abdullah and not by his real name for security reasons.
Q: Describe Iraq to me before and after the US invasion.
A: “The Iraqi people were afraid of the dictatorial regime[under Saddam]…the dreams of the Iraqi people were restricted, the lifestyle was very limited. After the invasion, people were very careful between each other. Due to the security situation, the killing increased in the streets. We still have a hope that the situation will get better…we believe it is not only the invasion that has changed Iraq, but also the neighboring countries who do not want good for the benefit of the Iraqi people”
Q: Can you elaborate on the role of neighboring countries in the violence in Iraq?
A: “These neighboring countries start to arm these small groups and they start to call them insurgent groups…these are just groups of terrorists that killed the Iraqi people, they did not really fight the US military. They killed the Iraqi people with the name of Jihad…and Jihad does not say to be killing any persons because killing people is not from Islam.”
Q: Do you see any benefits from the US invasion?