As the war in Iraq comes to a close, some of us Americans sigh in relief. Finally, it is over. But as an Iraqi-American, I am not quite sure what to make of this war.
While I cannot say that we have won (who did we beat?) -- or that we have lost (lost to whom?) -- I can speak of the great fear I have: That this withdrawal is premature.
With the U.S. military leaving now, I fear the sectarian violence within Iraq will worsen. And this could inspire more violence, as I witnessed on 9/11 -- precursor to our eight years in Iraq.
I come from a family of divided loyalties: my father is Shiite, my mother is Sunni, and I am neither and both. While my father supported the war (the man responsible for murdering thousands of Shiites must go) and my mother condemned it (what business does the U.S. have in her Iraq), I marched to Washington, D.C. and protested. Not only had my government lied to me, but I had yet to see the country of my heritage, the country we were about to invade. We can't go to Iraq because of Saddam, my parents always told me. And so Iraq only existed in story, as did my extended family.
"If we leave Iraq and we leave it in chaos, there'll be regional war. The regional war will engulf us for a generation," Biden said on This Week in the Democratic primary debate in 2007. And I couldn't agree more. Iraq was in complete chaos. I'd heard a cousin my age in Baghdad had witnessed her friends die in a car bomb outside her college, while I was sitting comfortably in New York. None of this seemed fair.
In 2008, I hoped a new president would mean a new country. I hoped my parents could return to Iraq. I hoped America could help itself from the negative criticism of the world. Yet with the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, I wonder if our country has changed at all.
But Iraq has changed. My grandmother, who still lives in her home in Baghdad, says Iraq has been destroyed. She now fears for her life because of the mass slaughter of Sunnis and Shiites that is sure to take place once the U.S. military leaves. She never wanted the military; poor things, she'd call them. But when they'd search her house, she'd offer them tea and pastries. It isn't their fault they are here; it's that George Bush.
Many of these soldiers were about my age, just starting their lives. I thought they'd be thrilled to finally leave Iraq. "While there is a sense of pride, there is a sense of worry that we are pulling out prematurely," said Wade Zirkle, who fought in the first invasion of Iraq, and now serves as interim executive director of Vets for Freedom. After eight years, they want to come out with an accomplishment, not something that could be reversed. The genuine sense of duty, of pride, is something I'm surprised still exists.
But the concept of progress in Iraq is a tricky one, I think. My father shut the door on such a possibility during the occupation. Yet some kept hope. Kanan Makiya, former adviser to the Iraq interim governing council and a strong proponent of the U.S. invasion in 2003 said, "I see no good for the people of Iraq coming from the way in which the U.S. is withdrawing from Iraq." The biggest failing however comes from the behavior of the Iraqi political elite in bringing about that withdrawal, and who are bending to Iranian pressure. The almost certain consequence is going to be a rise in the influence of Iran in Iraq and the re-emergence of the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in 2012 as an extremely powerful politician and militia leader.
Ironically, life in Iraq may have been safer under Saddam Hussein, says my grandmother. (And Iran threatens U.S. interests in the Middle East, as it pressures Afghanistan to block U.S. drone flights.)
While we never intended to stay in Iraq forever, we should have stayed until Iraqis could govern themselves. Such should be the nature of withdrawal from a country we chose to invade.
But despite popular American opposition to this war, many Arabs believed the Iraq war was maktoob, written, in history, but for a different reason. Lebanese-American professor Fouad Ajami writes in The Foreigner's Gift in 2006:
It wasn't democracy that was at stake in Iraq. It was something...achievable in its own way, a state less lethal to its own people.
For my parents to return to their state is now a far off dream. Yet I, sitting comfortably in mine, remain fearful of what is to come.