The Newest Exiles

April 27, 2007

After too long a silence, Iraqi blogger Riverbend returns with sad news: she and her family are preparing to leave Iraq. The constant fear and tension of daily life in Bush’s handcrafted hell have finally broken them all down:

Since last summer, we had been discussing it more and more. It was only a matter of time before what began as a suggestion- a last case scenario- soon took on solidity and developed into a plan. For the last couple of months, it has only been a matter of logistics. Plane or car? Jordan or Syria? Will we all leave together as a family? Or will it be only my brother and I at first?

After Jordan or Syria- where then? Obviously, either of those countries is going to be a transit to something else. They are both overflowing with Iraqi refugees, and every single Iraqi living in either country is complaining of the fact that work is difficult to come by, and getting a residency is even more difficult. There is also the little problem of being turned back at the border. Thousands of Iraqis aren’t being let into Syria or Jordan- and there are no definite criteria for entry, the decision is based on the whim of the border patrol guard checking your passport.

An airplane isn’t necessarily safer, as the trip to Baghdad International Airport is in itself risky and travelers are just as likely to be refused permission to enter the country (Syria and Jordan) if they arrive by airplane. And if you’re wondering why Syria or Jordan, because they are the only two countries that will let Iraqis in without a visa. Following up visa issues with the few functioning embassies or consulates in Baghdad is next to impossible.

So we’ve been busy. Busy trying to decide what part of our lives to leave behind. Which memories are dispensable? We, like many Iraqis, are not the classic refugees- the ones with only the clothes on their backs and no choice. We are choosing to leave because the other option is simply a continuation of what has been one long nightmare- stay and wait and try to survive.

Riverbend’s observations are always gripping, but there’s an especially harsh sting to read these paragraphs after watching Bill Moyers’s special on the fantasy Iraq created by the Bush administration — an imaginary kingdom that war backers and chickenhawk pundits still inhabit:

I always hear the Iraqi pro-war crowd interviewed on television from foreign capitals (they can only appear on television from the safety of foreign capitals because I defy anyone to be publicly pro-war in Iraq). They refuse to believe that their religiously inclined, sectarian political parties fueled this whole Sunni/Shia conflict. They refuse to acknowledge that this situation is a direct result of the war and occupation. They go on and on about Iraq’s history and how Sunnis and Shia were always in conflict and I hate that. I hate that a handful of expats who haven’t been to the country in decades pretend to know more about it than people actually living there.

I remember Baghdad before the war- one could live anywhere. We didn’t know what our neighbors were- we didn’t care. No one asked about religion or sect. No one bothered with what was considered a trivial topic: are you Sunni or Shia? You only asked something like that if you were uncouth and backward. Our lives revolve around it now. Our existence depends on hiding it or highlighting it- depending on the group of masked men who stop you or raid your home in the middle of the night.

Maybe it isn’t sad to be leaving such a nightmare behind (assuming they all make it safely through the gauntlet of thugs and corrupt soldiers). She doesn’t say it in so many words, but I think the idea of a wall being built through a section of Baghdad may have been the last straw:

According to plans the Iraqi puppets and Americans cooked up, it will ‘protect’ A’adhamiya, a residential/mercantile area that the current Iraqi government and their death squads couldn’t empty of Sunnis.

The wall, of course, will protect no one. I sometimes wonder if this is how the concentration camps began in Europe. The Nazi government probably said, “Oh look- we’re just going to protect the Jews with this little wall here- it will be difficult for people to get into their special area to hurt them!” And yet, it will also be difficult to get out.

The Wall is the latest effort to further break Iraqi society apart. Promoting and supporting civil war isn’t enough, apparently- Iraqis have generally proven to be more tenacious and tolerant than their mullahs, ayatollahs, and Vichy leaders. It’s time for America to physically divide and conquer- like Berlin before the wall came down or Palestine today. This way, they can continue chasing Sunnis out of “Shia areas” and Shia out of “Sunni areas.”

Meawhile, the wingers who cheered while Bush transformed Iraq in accordance with his fantasies are now washing their hands of the Iraqis who hate living in that fantasy:

On the April 23 broadcast of his Fox News Radio show, John Gibson argued that the Iraqi people — whom he described as “knuckle-dragging savages from the 10th century” — are at “fault” for the situation in Iraq. While discussing Iraq, Gibson said: “The one thing that drives me up the wall is [people] saying, ‘Look at all the deaths you Americans have caused in Iraq.’ No! ‘Scuse me? We invaded the place, we knocked over Saddam, and then Iraqis began killing each other.” Later in the show, Gibson agreed with a caller that the Coalition Provisional Authority’s 2003 decision to purge the civil service of all former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party and disband the Iraqi army “was a mistake.” Gibson then stated: “[B]ut who is doing this killing? Give me a break. These are Iraqis killing each other. So what did we do? If you’re saying it’s our fault that we unmasked them as knuckle-dragging savages from the 10th century — fine! I’ll take credit.”

There are savages in Iraq, sure. But there are savages over here, too. The difference is, the savages over here have access to television.

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