From the Stacks: Reflections on the War in Iraq

The following excerpt was published in the Spring 2007 issue of Ms. In light of President Obama’s decision this week to authorize airstrikes in Iraq, we pulled this firsthand reflection on the first Iraq war from our archives. To read more of our war coverage from the Spring 2007 issue, click here

Tens of thousands around the world regularly read blogger “Riverbend”—a pseudonymous woman from a half-Shia, half-Sunni middle-class Baghdad family. In 2004 the Feminist Press published Baghdad Burning, her first year’s worth of blogging; now it’s released Baghdad Burning II: More Girl Blog From Iraq. Here, a short excerpt about a neighborhood raid by “security forces” on the night of Riverbend’s cousin J’s 16th birthday party.

February 11, 2006

… Suddenly, two of them were in the living room. We were all sitting on the sofa, near my aunt. They were holding large lights or “torches” and one of them pointed a Kalashnikov at us. The other one began opening cabinets and checking behind doors. We were silent. The only sounds came from my aunt, who was praying in a tremulous whisper and little B., who was sucking away at his thumb, eyes wide with fear.

I didn’t know where to look exactly. My eyes kept wandering to the man with the weapon and yet I knew staring at him wasn’t a good idea. I glanced at J. again—her heart was beating so hard, the small silver pendant that my mother had given her just that day was throbbing on her chest in time to her heartbeat.

Suddenly, someone called out something from outside and it was over. They began rushing to leave the house, almost as fast as they’d invaded it. Doors slamming, lights dimming. We were left in the dark once more, not daring to move from the sofa we were sitting on. My aunt sat sobbing quietly, T. comforting her. “Houses are no longer sacred … the bastards.”

We found out a few hours later that one of our neighbors, two houses down, had died [of a heart attack]. His grandson couldn’t get him to the hospital on time because the troops wouldn’t let him leave the house until they’d finished with it.

We spent the day putting clothes back into closets, taking stock of anything missing (a watch, a brass letter opener and a walkman), and cleaning dirt and mud off of carpets. My aunt was fanatic about cleansing and disinfecting everything, saying it was all “dirty, dirty, dirty …” J. has sworn never to celebrate her birthday again.

It’s almost funny—only a month ago we were watching a commercial on some Arabic satellite channel giving a list of numbers Iraqis were supposed to dial in the case of a terrorist attack …You call THIS number if you need the police to protect you from burglars or abductors 0…You call THAT number if you need the National Guard or special forces to protect you from terrorists … But … who do you call to protect you from the New Iraq’s security forces?

From Baghdad Burning II, by Riverbend. Introduction by James Ridgeway and Jean Casella. Copyright © 2006 by Riverbend. All rights reserved. The Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 2006. Used by permission of the publisher.