The only Iraqi man I’ve ever met.


I wrote this piece on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning when news of the withdrawal was still in the headlines. Today I clicked on to BBC news to see that co-ordinated bomb attacks in Bagdhad had killed 63 and injured around 185.

A couple of years ago, I sat opposite an Iraqi man while he cursed at me. I was volunteering with an asylum-seeker mentorship programme and I was supposed to be teaching him English. He was showing me video images of bombings in his town that he’d taken on his mobile phone. He had a brutal glare and I was scared of him. He was hissing something at me that I can’t recall. I remember his eyes were lit up and that I didn’t know what to say. There was another student at the table, fidgeting.

I thought of him when the war in Iraq was declared over last week. And then again when I listened to a commentator on Pat Kenny talk about how the withdrawal of American troops was muted, because the operation hadn’t been a success.

In 2006 the UN estimated that over one hundred Iraqi civilians a day were being killed. In the end the number for that year turned out to be 34,000, amounting to 93 per day. On a single day in November, 200 died in an attack on Baghdad. According to antiwar.com, 4484 US soldiers lost their lives since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The last fatality was on November 14, just before Thanksgiving.

And there was the suicide of David Kelly in July 2003. I remember watching the coverage of the Hutton Inquiry in my pyjamas and wondering what a “sexed-up” dossier was.

In 2006 I was starting university. I counted balancing writing essays on Jane Austen with late nights out as one of my greatest concerns. I didn’t lose sleep over the 93 a day.

And yet, like everyone else, one of my biggest fears is losing somebody I love. It’s impossible to imagine the suffering of war, the little dominoes of grief tumbling as one life after another falls to pieces.

I follow the official blog of the British troops in Afghanistan. They use a WordPress account, like this one. Every few days the death of a soldier is announced, with a short bio, featuring his or her military rank and how their death occurred. You can leave comments. People do.

It makes me realise how little I know about the world, how, against the odds, my life has occurred in a peaceful place at a peaceful time. I don’t give thanks for this often enough.

I’ve no idea if the Iraqi was granted asylum. Most likely, he’s still in a centre somewhere, awaiting his hearing and measuring his life out in insipid cantine meals.

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5 thoughts on “The only Iraqi man I’ve ever met.

  1. A very sobering piece achieved by the juxta- position of one’s personal life put beside that of soldiers and civilians in war zones….The power of pure accident and fate…..

  2. It’s the helplessness we feel when reading about the suffering in other parts of the world that I try very hard not to get upset over trivial things. I am not sure if I have told you this before: Though we are unable to help in reducing the number of deaths due to wars in the world, we can help in little ways around us. To reach out people who are near to us. To help whenever we can and pass on the gift of gifting. When everyone starts to slowly think in this way, I do believe the world will become a better place just with the change of thoughts.

  3. Pingback: Armpit hair or the Eurozone crisis? The writer’s dilemma | katekatharina.com

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