During the U.S. occupation, perhaps the most eloquent voices coming from Iraq was Riverbend , a teenaged girl writing in anonymity, whose Baghdad Burning blog gave an intimate view of life for ordinary people. Riverbend's blog entries ended suddenly in 2007--but recently, antiwar author Michael Schwartz discovered a final farewell entry at Baghdad Burning. Below, we publish Schwartz's introduction, and then Riverbend's last post.
An Iraqi mother and her son sit amid the rubble
SOME OF you will remember, but most probably won't, that during the first few years of the war in Iraq (until 2007), Riverbend was a constant companion for those of us who sought to understand what it looked like on the ground for ordinary people in Iraq.
Her blog Baghdad Burning contained a kind of daily poetry describing Baghdad from her window, her TV, and her ventures into the neighborhood and the city--when conditions permitted. The deaths and lives around her, the discourse of her huge circle of friends and family, and--most of all--her passionate sense of what was going wrong all around her. Her texts, written in glorious English prose that bordered on poetry, are still the best way to find out how things really were when the U.S. invasion was ravaging Iraq.
And then she disappeared. From 2003 to 2007, no one (in Europe or North America) had figured out who she was and where she was (not even The Feminist Press, which published her essays as a book). So when she stopped blogging, the only thing left was rumors of her finally fleeing and disappearing, or that the bad guys (including the U.S., the U.S.-installed government, and certain fractions of the insurgency) had finally offed her.
But I just discovered that a year ago, on the 10th anniversary of the invasion, she posted a final, formal farewell blog. It was great news, because we now know that she did escape and seems to be together in body and mind, and still filled with her incredible resilient and analytic spirit, and her remarkable capacity for expressing the most profound ideas in a few beautiful words. Below is her final, angry, eloquent, analytic prose poem, posted on April 9, 2013.
APRIL 9, 2013, marks 10 years since the fall of Baghdad. Ten years since the invasion. Since the lives of millions of Iraqis changed forever. It's difficult to believe. It feels like only yesterday I was sharing day-to-day activities with the world. I feel obliged today to put my thoughts down on the blog once again, probably for the last time.
In 2003, we were counting our lives in days and weeks. Would we make it to next month? Would we make it through the summer? Some of us did and many of us didn't.
Back in 2003, one year seemed like a lifetime ahead. The idiots said, "Things will improve immediately." The optimists were giving our occupiers a year, or two... The realists said, "Things won't improve for at least five years." And the pessimists? The pessimists said, "It will take 10 years. It will take a decade."
Looking back at the last 10 years, what have our occupiers and their Iraqi governments given us in 10 years? What have our puppets achieved in this last decade? What have we learned?
We learned a lot.
We learned that while life is not fair, death is even less fair--it takes the good people. Even in death you can be unlucky. Lucky ones die a "normal" death...a familiar death of cancer, or a heart attack, or stroke. Unlucky ones have to be collected in bits and pieces. Their families trying to bury what can be salvaged and scraped off of streets that have seen so much blood, it is a wonder they are not red.
We learned that you can be floating on a sea of oil, but your people can be destitute. Your city can be an open sewer; your women and children can be eating out of trash dumps and begging for money in foreign lands.
We learned that justice does not prevail in this day and age. Innocent people are persecuted and executed daily. Some of them in courts, some of them in streets, and some of them in the private torture chambers.
We are learning that corruption is the way to go. You want a passport issued? Pay someone. You want a document ratified? Pay someone. You want someone dead? Pay someone.
We learned that it's not that difficult to make billions disappear.
We are learning that those amenities we took for granted before 2003--you know, the luxuries: electricity, clean water from faucets, walkable streets, safe schools--those are for deserving populations. Those are for people who don't allow occupiers into their country.
We're learning that the biggest fans of the occupation (you know who you are, you traitors) eventually leave abroad. And where do they go? The USA, most likely, with the UK a close second. If I were an American, I'd be outraged. After spending so much money and so many lives, I'd expect the minor Chalabis and Malikis and Hashimis of Iraq to, well, stay in Iraq. Invest in their country. I'd stand in passport control and ask them, "Weren't you happy when we invaded your country? Weren't you happy we liberated you? Go back. Go back to the country you're so happy with, because now, you're free!"
We're learning that militias aren't particular about who they kill. The easiest thing in the world would be to say that Shia militias kill Sunnis and Sunni militias kill Shia, but that's not the way it works. That's too simple.
We're learning that the leaders don't make history. Populations don't make history. Historians don't write history. News networks do. The Foxes, and CNNs, and BBCs, and Jazeeras of the world make history. They twist and turn things to fit their own private agendas.
We're learning that the masks are off. No one is ashamed of the hypocrisy anymore. You can be against one country (like Iran), but empowering them somewhere else (like in Iraq). You can claim to be against religious extremism (like in Afghanistan), but promoting religious extremism somewhere else (like in Iraq and Egypt and Syria).
Those who didn't know it in 2003 are learning (much too late) that an occupation is not the portal to freedom and democracy. The occupiers do not have your best interests at heart.
We are learning that ignorance is the death of civilized societies and that everyone thinks their particular form of fanaticism is acceptable.
We are learning how easy it is to manipulate populations with their own prejudices and that politics and religion never mix, even if a super-power says they should mix.
But it wasn't all a bad education...
We learned that you sometimes receive kindness when you least expect it. We learned that people often step outside of the stereotypes we build for them and surprise us. We learned and continue to learn that there is strength in numbers and that Iraqis are not easy to oppress. It is a matter of time...
And then there are things we'd like to learn...
Ahmed Chalabi, Iyad Allawi, Ibrahim Jaafari, Tarek Al Hashemi and the rest of the vultures, where are they now? Have they crawled back under their rocks in countries like the USA, the UK, etc.? Where will Maliki be in a year or two? Will he return to Iran or take the millions he made off of killing Iraqis and then seek asylum in some European country? Far away from the angry Iraqi masses...
What about George Bush, Condi, Wolfowitz, and Powell? Will they ever be held accountable for the devastation and the death they wrought in Iraq? Saddam was held accountable for 300,000 Iraqis. Surely, someone should be held accountable for the million or so?
Finally, after all is said and done, we shouldn't forget what this was about--making America safer. And are you safer, Americans? If you are, why is it that we hear more and more about attacks on your embassies and diplomats? Why is it that you are constantly warned to not go to this country or that one? Is it better now, 10 years down the line? Do you feel safer, with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis out of the way (granted, half of them were women and children, but children grow up, right?)?
And what happened to Riverbend and my family? I eventually moved from Syria. I moved before the heavy fighting, before it got ugly. That's how fortunate I was. I moved to another country nearby, stayed almost a year, and then made another move to a third Arab country with the hope that, this time, it'll stick until...Until when? Even the pessimists aren't sure anymore. When will things improve? When will be able to live normally? How long will it take?
For those of you who are disappointed reality has reared its ugly head again, go to Fox News, I'm sure they have a reportage that will soothe your conscience.
For those of you who have been asking about me and wondering how I have been doing, I thank you. "Lo khuliyet, qulibet." Which means, "If the world were empty of good people, it would end."
I only need to check my e-mails to know it won't be ending any time soon.