THROUGH THE EYES OF AN IRAQI MAN |
March 16, 2007
The following is a very short work of fiction. I wrote it through the eyes of a local Iraqi man, who is a figment of my imagination. Much of the information and actual events I am privy to here in Iraq are classified, but in this fashion I can share some of the realities about the Iraqi people that many Americans may not think much about or realize. Of course, it is not intended to represent a whole society or culture, but I know for a fact there are men like Abu, and I thought you might like to hear his "voice". Like all fiction, Abu's words and experiences are based, to some degree, in reality.
My name is Abu Hassin. I am sitting right now outside of my small home on a chicken farm east of Ramadi, only miles from the fishing village where I grew up. I am smoking a cigarette and drinking my evening tea while I write these lines in a notebook.
I am very happy that the Americans helped to remove Saddam. Who else would help us? I remember the day when Saddam was captured. I have not cried and laughed so much in a very long time. I was so proud to see my wife vote when we held the first free elections. She is a brave woman. Before my mosque came to be used by insurgents, my imam prayed for the Americans over the loudspeakers. Do they know we pray for them? Some say the Americans want to stay in Iraq, but I think they want to go home.
There is violence still, yes, but there has always been violence in this land. Already life holds so much more promise for my people. I am old now, but for the children I am very happy. I am an elder in my village, so people listen to me. And I am sick and tired of these stupid men creating more violence. What will it solve? Don't they understand that if they stopped the violence, the Americans would leave? The Americans call them insurgents, but they call themselves "freedom fighters," as if the Americans want to take our freedom away. They are helping to free us!
I see these men acting so secretive and important, planning their attacks. I knew them when they were little boys playing barefoot in the dirt. I laugh at them. I am too old, so they leave me alone. They threaten me, but I know they will not harm me. I am not afraid of death anyway. My own father was dragged away in the night from my home by Saddam's men. We were never told why, and we never saw him again. All three of my uncles fled the country. Now these "freedom fighters" threaten their own people, hurting Iraq because they cannot truly hurt America. They are silly children who think they are all grown up.
I used to commute to Baghdad, where I worked for a businessman delivering documents. Now, with these vehicle checkpoints, the commute is too much. I have been pulled over by the American soldiers three or four times. Each time they have had an Iraqi with them. They are cautious. They make sure I have no weapons, and that my car is not going to explode. But once they understand I am simply a man trying to care for his family, they are very kind. They apologize, and they treat me with respect. "Shukran," they say -- Thank you. They say what I already know, that they are in Iraq to help us become a free and stable country, and that I should tell them if I know where the bad men are. I smile at them because it is like a dream to have an elected government. I say to them, "Shukran." I try to be gracious.
I also do not commute because of the bombs. The insurgents do not care who their bombs kill. There is so much trash and debris on the roads. You cannot clean it up. Anything could be hiding a bomb. This year my family did not even make the pilgrimage to Mecca. A good friend of mine was killed by a bomb that was hidden inside a dead dog on the road. And the suicide bombers? They kill more Iraqis than anyone else! What good does this do?
My family and I live on this chicken farm. We raise chickens, sell the eggs, and then sell the chickens for food. We also harvest some crops, and then buy more chickens with that money. In this way we live. Last week, on a quiet morning, I was watching TV as my wife cleaned some clothing and the children helped her. My youngest daughter slept on the floor behind me. I heard helicopters. It was a cloudy morning, so I thought it might be the sound of a truck with a bad muffler playing tricks on my ears. But as the sound grew, I understood that it was the American helicopters flying overhead. When I felt the wind blowing the sand into my home, I stood up and walked to the door. Three helicopters landed 200 meters from my home, and soldiers filed out of them. At first I could not see how many there were through the dust.
My stomach tightened: What if someone told them I was one of the insurgents? They had an Iraqi with them. He told me to walk towards them with my hands up. I did. One soldier had his weapon pointed at me, but I trusted he would not shoot. He is well trained. They checked me for weapons and told me to sit down. I told them my daughter was in the house, and my wife and the other children were behind the chicken coop. They said weapons had been hidden on a farm nearby, and they wanted to check my farm. I nodded yes, yes, check the farm.
Within minutes I was sitting with my wife and children in the main room of our small home, while soldiers gave candy to the children. I talked to their leader, as the Iraqi translated for me. I shared some tea with him. I told him thank you for helping Iraq. My oldest boy is 13. He kicked his new soccer ball back and forth with an American soldier, and he smiled and waved whenever the helicopters circled overhead. He loves the American soldiers. They are his heroes. He loves to talk about them and to see them. They walked through our fields for two hours. Of course they found no weapons. I refuse to help these "freedom fighters." I do not care what they say. I will not help them.
When the Americans left, my wife was a little angry that they maybe scared our daughters, but I explained to her that they only wanted to check for weapons. This is a hard world and sometimes children will be frightened. My son jumped and danced. He shielded his eyes and watched them get in their helicopters and fly away towards the sun. And the children love the candy. Such a simple thing, candy, and toys, but they ate it and looked at the shiny wrappers for two days. It made me smile to see them so excited. My children have brought school supplies home that American soldiers brought to their school also.
Three young men came to the farm once. They put a gun to my head and told me I had to hide weapons for them. I said, "Kill me, I will not." I called them stupid and told them to stop this violence. They said the Americans are trying to take away Iraq. I called them stupid again. One of them kicked me. They threatened to come back, but they left. Others stopped me on the road once and tried to make me bring a bomb in a burlap sack and drop it on the side of the road. I told them I am too old to play their little kid's games. They said they would kill my children if I did not do it. I looked the young man in the eyes and said, "I know your father. My wife helped to raise you when your father and I went to work. Do not let Allah hear you threaten me, boy. Leave this farm, and do not come back here. I will not help you, and damn you for speaking of harming my family."
I know -- maybe it is not smart to do this. My wife tells me, "Abu, you are going to get hurt." I smile at her. "Insha'Allah," I say. If Allah is willing. Others have tried to disobey these men, and they are dead. I think I have the proper mixture of age and anger that they leave me be. My friend down the road saw men set up an old mortar tube and shoot at the American base from a lot next to his home. Then they would run like little children playing a game of cat and mouse. One day he went over and told them to leave. They shot him in the head. They kicked dirt on him as his wife ran across the road in tears. They have no hearts.
These stupid men kill their own people. They use children as human shields. They are cowards. They threaten people who want to join the police or the Army to help bring law and order to our country. They make people place bombs and get killed by the Americans for doing it. They want this chaos to continue. They dress up as women and blow themselves up in mosques. I read the same Koran. I would not blow myself up, killing innocent people and maybe some American soldiers. Allah will not reward me for this.
I just watched a pickup truck go by on the road, filled with these foolish young men. They looked at me as they drove by. Let them look. I am used to this. I will sit here and drink my tea and watch this wonderful red sun drop down past the horizon of my desert. Then I will go inside and pray. I will pray for the people of Iraq, and for the Americans who have helped us so much. And I will shake my fist in the face of these stupid young men. I am not afraid. I hope next year to go to Mecca again. I will never stop praying for peace. Peace will come. Insha'Allah.
Originally published by The New York Times.