You have just spent 20 hours fasting from food or water in 50 degree temperatures of Iraq’s summer heat.
At this point, you probably think it couldn’t get worse.
But a few days ago in the Karada shopping district in Baghdad, it did get worse.
As the joyous Islamic holiday of Eid Al-Fitr approached, marking the end of the fasting month, Karada – one of the busiest districts in central Baghdad- was full of Baghdadis. As is tradition at this time of the year, Muslims were out and about, shopping for gifts and new clothing to wear on Eid.
But in the backdrop of these excited preparations and following immense losses in the Iraqi town of Fallujah, ISIS militants targeted the capital. Baghdad was hit with two devastating bombings, and the Karada district fell victim.
Over 250 lives were lost.
Feelings of shock and heartache instantly overtook my body. A sense of numbness and helplessness later settled in, as the realisation hit with full force that there was nothing that I – or anyone – could do to reverse what happened. Watching the news unfold in Australia, I could not even attempt to lessen the pain of those in Iraq who had just lost their loved ones.
“People came to buy clothes for their loved ones. Now, they’re buying coffins,” a man brokenly told Iraqi TV at the scene of the bombing in Karada.
The attack, and those that followed in other parts of Baghdad this week, shook the nation. They have been the deadliest attacks on Iraq in over a decade. Every Iraqi, without a doubt, whether in Iraq or in the diaspora, felt as though it could just as easily have been them who fell victim.
These were women, men and children who had planned to enjoy the night out, or were simply running casual errands. There were people of my age who had dreams of completing their university and marrying their loved one. Some were there with their children, or their friends, or on a date. And some died immediately in the bomb blast, whilst others burnt alive or were trapped, unable to escape.
I am haunted by the story of the mother who crouched over her small children in a bid to protect them from the blast, only to later be found cuddled around their bodies, charred.
And yet the rest of the world seems to be unbothered.
It is as though on the spectrum of humanity, Iraqis are placed on the far end, demoted in the hierarchy of life and forgotten. I feel as if we Iraqis have simply become a single news report, easily forgetten once the three-minute reporting is over. And it pains me, because I sit in the comfort of my home in Australia knowing that I am safe despite having left my family members behind in Iraq to face a daily death sentence.
Our pain is normalised and our death is normalised. Our dead loved ones become a number by which you measure and determine your level of sadness and pity. Joyful photos of the dead in their recent, happier moments become the only means by which burned bodies can be identified. Iraqis are left, once again, to pick up scattered bodies and dispersed memories. And after that is over, they have no choice but to rebuild over the rubble and live another day under the continuous threats of bombings to come.
It is hard to convince people that it never used to be like this, and that this is all new and foreign to us. This minefield in not the Iraq we grew up to love.
The magnitude of violence experienced all over the country did not exist prior to the invasion attack by the US and their allies. Yes, Saddam was a tyrant who slaughtered his own people at the meekest flicker of doubting their loyalty. We constantly lived in fear of the regime that was constantly watching us, the people, awaiting any treacherous slip that could give cause to effecting our disappearance.
Given this, it was no surprise that Iraqis did rejoice the fall of Saddam and his regime when the US Army and its coalition took over Baghdad. But this is more likely because those rejoicing were not aware of what lay ahead.
This invasion turned Iraq into a failed State. Necessary government structures collapsed, leaving the nation in absolute chaos. Its political and economic structures completely crumbled. There was vast infrastructural damage and, needless to say, hundreds of thousands of lives were lost. 13 years later, the country is slowly trying to get back on its feet, but the ongoing internal and external interference is making it impossible for the nation to stabilise and steadily function. It is not just the IS militants who are the perpetrators in this ordeal but those in governmental power who have once again failed to value and protect Iraqi lives.
The bombings in Baghdad have affected all Iraqis, even those of us in the diaspora. This Eid in particular was not a joyful one. You could feel the grief in the air, long before we’re able to communicate our sadness.
I keep wondering what the people who changed their profile pictures to the Paris flag have to say about this attack in Baghdad – that is, if they even know about it or care for it.
Is the life of a Baghdadi, in the world’s eyes, not equal to the life of a Parisian?
I also wonder if it was all worth it – the billions of dollars spent to supposedly bring us democracy and free us from dictatorship. I would much rather that they had stripped Iraq of its oil but left it politically stable, enabled and at peace, than that they plunder it of its richness then leave it completely incapacitated and unable to regain its footing for years to come.
At least then, we could have returned to our homeland.
At least then, when we waved a casual goodbye to our mothers, father, nephews, nieces, cousins, grandparents or neighbours as they stepped out to the supermarket, we would not need to secretly farewell them in our hearts and hold vigil at the doorstep, uncertain whether they would return from that simple, everyday errand.
But how can we uproot an enemy we cannot identify? The chaos and violence that Iraq continues to face has roots in many pockets. Where and how do we begin?
We may have lost Saddam, but we have gained a much stronger oppressor in our intangible enemy.
By Fadak Alfayadh
Fadak is a law student and human rights advocate based in Melbourne. She aspires to work in human rights law and to write about it along the way. Fadak’s work is particularly driven by refugee issues in Australia and around the globe. She also has a passion for Middle Eastern feminism and politics.