Samir is giving two children a piano lesson in their home. I sit talking with the parents. We get off to a slow start, they seem afraid to speak their mind. There is a sadness in the face of the children’s mother. She looks tired and I sense angry. I am curious to know how Iraqis feel about their life now, over a year after the fall of Saddam. They both look over to their children, “We are tired, tired of it all, you know each day we take our children to school, all day we wait outside in the heat for them to leave..” I know why. The kidnapping of children has been an underground industry in ‘new lawless Iraq’. Ruthless gangs even have offices on the main shopping street where you go to pay the ransom. The couple are dignified like all educated Iraqi’s, and although they have little money at the moment they want their kids to have their piano lessons. Culture has always been important to Iraqi’s. This house has two pianos and beautiful artwork all around. Samir teaches the kids as I talk and drink coffee with their parents.
“The sanctions have destroyed the Iraqi people, ‘they’ needed to do this to us so we could appreciate ‘their’ invasion, ‘their’ gift of freedom.” This couple were so happy a year ago, they were jumping with joy when Saddam fell. They never expected that 14 months later life would be worse than under the crippling days of the sanctions. Then, for 13 years they had no money and food to eat, now they do but without any security. “This is not freedom” the proud mother speaks. Like most parents they take their children to school each day and wait outside the gates all day. They both look at me, “Tell us what do you think? will thing gets better?”
I feel sad. I want to be optimistic but I can’t. I can’t lie to these people who’ve shown me such honesty. “We cannot speak like this to anyone.. we are afraid to express our opinions now. if we support the former regime we are a target and if we support the Americans we are also a target.” Some kind of freedom in new Iraq.
This couple worked together in UN headquarters narrowly missing death by 10 minutes when a suicide bomber blew the place apart nearly a year ago. They haven’t worked since. They have many job offers, as good English speakers they could earn big money with the Americans but they are too afraid. The daily targeted killings are the consequences of earning big bucks. “We have struggled for years now.. we are tired .. we need a break…” they want to visit family in Spain and are thinking of leaving Iraq. They know little of the struggles they will face in Europe. I look around their beautiful house, the great art, books, and pianos. How will these educated, cultured people fare in the west? I fear to think.
“Iraq is not like Afghanistan.. here we are educated, cultured.. we had everything in the 70’s and 80’s, the sanctions starved us and killed more Iraqi’s then all the wars put together. But it did something else – it starved us of books, periodicals.. We were isolated culturally and emotionally from the outside world for 13 years. a first world nation destroyed into the third world and kept there by these crippling sanctions. Saddam never felt the sanctions, he had everything.” Like all Iraqis they are pleased he has gone but cannot trust the future. It is held in foreign hands, hands that have betrayed them before and are capable of doing the same again.