The first-person stories that follow were gathered, in Arabic, by friends of a Chester County resident from street corner conversations in mid-January 2007 in a Damascus, Syria, neighborhood where many Iraqis are living. We invite you to share these with your book group, classroom, co-workers, peace and justice committee, peers, relatives, students, and neighbors.
1. “A” Age early 30s
I arrived in Syria from Iraq three days ago. I had to leave my home, my car. I am Sunni. The group of people called Al-Mahdi army killed the whole family living next door to me because they were Sunni. Thank God I was not there and my family was not there. I am still scared till this moment. My money maybe will be enough to the end of the month. Life in Baghdad was just to watch TV if there was power, and if not I sat with friends and we talked and talked. Do I want to go to the USA? Look how the USA treats us in our own country. How do you think they would treat us there? I will try to stay here in Damascus awhile. If Iraq becomes an ok place to live again, I will try to go back.
“B” Age about 45
I came from Baghdad six months ago. My kids are the most important thing to me in this world. Their school was targeted by an IED. When I heard the news I was like crazy running everywhere. I did not know what to do. I just went to see they were ok. When I saw them and they were ok I prayed to God in thanks for keeping them safe. I thought I am not going to wait for another IED to take them away. So I bought four bus tickets heading to Syria. We all get homesick and we wait for Iraq to become a better place. I would love to go to the USA, but I think it is too difficult for me to get a visa and live there. But I would say to Mr. G.W. Bush: You destroyed my country.
“C” Age about 22
My house in Baghdad was bombed by an unknown group. I still to this moment don’t know the reason. Some people told me that it happened by mistake. Some people told me that it happened because I am Shi’a and I was supposed to leave that place and go to a Shi’a place. I tried to stay in my house but it was destroyed and I didn’t feel safe. Here I am now in Syria. But if there is a place in this world I really want to be, I want to go home to my Iraq, to my house. I want to go there and find that the US army is gone! We love the US people, but we hate their soldiers.
“D” Age about 26
I am Palestinian but lived in Iraq my whole life. Iraqis have no problem to enter Syria, but for us Palestinians, it is really hard to get a visa to get us inside Syria. The Palestinian people still in Iraq are dying. No country will give them a visa and no one knows the real reason behind it. I think they want to finish us all one by one. In the Palestinian camp in Baghdad at least two to eight people are killed every day by the Mahdi army. For me, I was hurt in a car bombing, I had death threats several times, no job, no security, no power. I could give reasons the whole day. When will these things be over? Yesterday a car bomb killed more than 70 students at a Baghdad college. And over 100 injured. But who cares if ten or a million Iraqis and Palestinians are killed? Where to go now? I liked the United States when I was kid, but if I went there, I don’t know if they will treat us nice or not. After what we saw from them in Iraq and what they have done, no one in the world would ever think that they are like what we see in their movies.
“E” Age about 30
I left Baghdad because my neighborhood became very dangerous for my family. There were four car bombs that blew up there. I can’t watch my family die. I can’t feel safe when my kids go to their school and I can’t feel safe when I go to see my parents or go to shop from the markets and I can’t trust any one in the streets because it becomes so complicated, like I don’t know if the checkpoint is real or fake. It really makes me feel sad when I watch the news and see what’s happening in Iraq and the most painful thing is that I know I can’t do something to help Iraq. I would love to go to the U.S., but I am planning to go back to my home first because I really miss everything. I miss my friends I miss the street I used to live in it
“F” Age mid-30s
I left Iraq eight months ago. My husband was killed and I was afraid for the children because they are the only thing I have left in the world. Criminals killed my husband after they stole his car, I did not know what to do after he was killed, I have three kids and I could not stay in Iraq after he get killed because I don’t know if those people who killed him are planning to come back and finish his family too, and the most thing that made me angry on the government that he was killed just 200 feet away from the police checkpoint.
I came here to Damascus almost a year ago. In Baghdad I could not afford to live and the job I had was very dangerous. That dangerous job was being a barber. You remember when the barbers were getting killed for no reason by unknown people. I kept working under those conditions because you know I have a family and I need to feed my kids. But after a while the customers become scared to come and have a haircut. Why? Several times it happened that the costumers got killed in the barber shops because when people came to kill the barber, they shot the whole shop and costumers got killed. Would I go to the U.S.? Of course, everyone wants to go there. But I really miss my home country.
Iraq is a place we can describe it now with one word: “hell.” Everybody killing everybody and for no real reason. My husband is paralyzed because of the U.S. bombing during the invasion of Baghdad, so I had to work to feed my family. Most of the people killed in Iraq are Sunni, and the Palestinian people in Iraq are all Sunni so we Palestinians are put at the top of the list of Sunnis. They killed over 500 Palestinian in the last year and all of the Palestinians in Iraq if you count them you don’t find more than 15,000!! And you are asking me why I left Iraq?
“I” Woman in her early 40s
My life was very good before. I used to drive my children to their school. After I got back home I would have breakfast with my husband and then go to my work at a library. We used to have picnics in different places in Baghdad every Thursday night, or go to a restaurant or to “roller coaster city” or to the zoo. My life was simple and very beautiful.
The war was really horrible, more than you can imagine. Baghdad started to become a dangerous place, especially the car bombs when you never know what will blow up. And the U.S. army started to arrest people for no reason and keeping them a long time in prison for nothing. My brother and my brother-in-law were kept in Bucca camp for 16 months with no charges. Do people in the rest of the world know that Iraqis get arrested and kept for 16 months with no charges?
After that time there was a new period. This is when our identity was being killed. If you were Sunni and were captured by a Shia’a group, you would get killed. And the same if you were Shia’a and were captured by Sunni. Believe me, there was no such thing before the war. This came with the war. You can go and ask any Iraqi woman or man, Shia’a or Sunni, about this killing. They will tell you that Shia’a killing Sunni and Sunni killing Shia’a are an American creation.
I left Iraq because I want my children to have a better life. They are too young for the suffering there. And I cannot imagine losing one of them. I want them to be happy and to be safe from everything. Now women in Iraq do not have the right to the safety of their children.
“J” Man in his mid-50s
I used to run a shop before the American army came to Baghdad. I loved my life in that time, but now conditions are different. Iraq is one of the most dangerous places in the world. I came here to have some of my life back.
I lost my shop and my son in a car bomb explosion. I am sad not just about my son. I am sad for the fathers and mothers that have lost one of their children. I am sure that the Iraqi government knows about everything happening and they want this condition to go on so they can make more and more money, the Iraqi government and the Americans. When will they stop sucking the Iraqi blood and killing people and making others sad for the rest of their lives just for money. There is no rule in this world that allows them to do what they have done.
I am old and I have nothing left in this life. I used to go to the Mosque every day, but the last two years the Mosque has become dangerous. The Americans started doing raids and arresting everyone who is there praying. Here I can go to the Mosque without fear of being arrested by the Americans.
I want any one who prays to ask for mercy on my son’s soul and on all the Iraqis who died in this war. And God bless everyone trying to help Iraq.
“K” A man in his later 30s.
My life was just like any Iraqi life. My only problem is that I am Shi’a so was prevented from doing some simple things. My brother was executed by Saddam Hussein’s forces in the revolution of the south. I wanted to have my revenge on Saddam but not the way that he was killed by those militias. They didn’t just kill Saddam, they killed me too, and killed my family’s future.
My life became very difficult after the war. Everything was expensive and my income is not enough for the gas, the water, the electricity along with the expenses of my family. We left Iraq for these reasons and because there is no security. But the real reason that pushed me to come here is that the Mahdi army wanted me to join their forces because I am Shi’a. At first they said it was up to me, but then one night I found a paper on my door saying that if I will not join them, they will kill me and kill my family too. I didn’t believe it, but my friend who is Shi’a received the same paper. He didn’t believe it either and a week later he was killed and so was his brother and his father. They were hanged in front of their house. I think God wanted me to live more days in this life, so after three days of hiding terrified in my parents’ house, I just took my little family and we left to Syria.
I used to have my own house and my own car. I worked on building my house for three years and I worked for over five years to buy my car. Now I am living in a small apartment. But I like this city and the people treat us well. But a home will always stay a home even if I owned the whole world. And I miss my father and my mother and my street in Baghdad.
“L” Man in his early 40s
My life in Iraq was very good, more than you can imagine. I had two sons and they were everything in this world to me. I used to own properties which I rented, so I did not have money problems. My sons loved horses and I would take them every week to ride horses. But during the war my properties were destroyed by the U.S. bombing, and conditions in Baghdad got so bad and so dangerous.
It reached a point where I could not go anywhere. I couldn’t send my children to their school. I couldn’t go out with my wife to the markets.
I have nothing to fear from anyone except God. We left Iraq for the same reasons as others. It’s running away from death. If I get killed, who would take care of my family and feed them? I had received death threats twice, and in Baghdad you can’t ignore these threats. One of them said: “If you don’t leave this country, we will kill you and anyone who lives with you.” The second note said: “We will forgive you if you pay us $30,000 as a forgiveness fee for your life and your family’s lives.” I read that and I laughed and we left to go to Syria. I realized they were a gang, not a religious group. I hope Iraq will be fixed some day and I can go back. If not, I guess like anyone in the world I would like to go to the United States, but would we be welcomed there by the people? Are they going to believe that we are not the ones responsible for destroying the World Trade Center? Before thinking about a visa, we should think about how the Americans will think about us. Will they respect us or not?
“M” Young woman
Before the war my friends and I used to go to the theater together because I like theater so much. And we used to walk the whole way back home. But all that was gone after the war. The only theater we go to is in our dreams. The U.S. army came in and destroyed our whole life. They came saying they will bring democracy but the only thing they brought is fear.
I could not stand watching my family get killed or my friends get killed, so I decided to leave Iraq. I lived my entire life without seeing one drop of blood. And after the war I saw myself swimming in a sea of blood and that is the blood of my own people. There are so many people getting killed everyday in Iraq, more than anyone in this world could imagine.
As for the Americans, I saw there was a big difference between the soldiers who treated us so bad and the civilians. A relative of mine was detained by the U.S. forces and we went to the green zone to see where he was. The soldiers there were treating us like animals, but we met with a human rights organization and they were trying to help us find our relative and they were like angels with us. And they were Americans too. So I understand now that there is big difference between the government and the people in the United States.
“N” Man, 27 years old
We wish for our life to go back to the days when we had financial problems but at least we had security. We were able to sleep. We used to go somewhere before the war, but now the only place to go is our house. I used to sell cigarettes in the streets, then I got some help from my family and bought a car and worked on it to be a taxi. After the war the car was stolen, so I had to work with the U.S. military and the KBR (Kellogg, Brown and Root), then I received a death threat so I left home and came here.
The people here in Syria are very nice and treat us ok. I wish that Iraq could become a better place so we can invite the people here in Syria to visit our country and see how beautiful it is. And I would love to go to the U.S. and talk to them and see how they think about us and about Iraq now that the U.S. government just destroyed our country.
“O” Man, 34 years old
Before the war Saddam put a lot of rules against our traditions as Shi’a people in Baghdad. I was having a simple life. I used to have a grocery shop, and I used to make good money from that. But after the invasion, things are so different with U.S. convoys everywhere and making lots of problems for me as a shop owner. Like the bombs that don’t make any difference between the Iraqi and the Americans. And now things turn so bad with people being killed because of their identity.
All the Iraqis here in Syria have reasons for leaving Iraq. No one would go and leave their home for nothing. I received a threat that if I don’t join their Al-Mahdi army they will punish me because I am Shi’a.
“P” Woman, 42 years old
Before the war Baghdad was the most beautiful place in the world to me. But it became a ghost city and I can’t imagine how the people still there are living. Mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and husbands and wives are crying right now for ones they loved who got killed. I left already three years ago when my husband’s car was smashed by a U.S. tank. We decided to leave so we wouldn’t get smashed by one of those metal monsters. It’s hard to leave everything behind in one night and start a new life, but after a while we got our children in school and my husband found a good job. We have a lot of Syrian friends now, but it really hurts me when I remember my friends in Baghdad and how we used to get together. I don’t want to go anywhere now. I just dream of going back home.