It was a beautiful day in downtown Baghdad last week as I happily strolled to spend an afternoon at my favorite spot on the Tigris. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and marvelous foreign tanks were driving Iraqi kids to school and taking sick people to hospitals. Those tanks had come from the other side of the planet to do exactly that. My favorite part on the Tigris’ shore is a breathtaking grassy area surrounded by palm trees, and it blooms with gorgeous flowers (the same kind of flowers we greeted the American army with when they liberated us). I’ve been going there since I was a little girl. In the midst of tall, proud palm trees decorating the sparkling Mesopotamian water, I go there to take the time to contemplate, write poetry, and count the blessings bestowed upon my people by the United States government, as I rest my eyes on the beauty of Baghdad.
While I was sitting on the grass, humming the "Star-Spangled Banner" and enjoying a serving of Freedom Fries, a young American male soldier stepped out from behind a palm tree, where he was peacefully watering the flowers. I was startled. Nobody but I knew where the place was, so I’d never expected to see anyone there, let alone an American. I blushed as I made sure none of my long black hair had accidentally slipped out from underneath my stars-and-stripes veil. I was used to seeing American soldiers in Iraq since they freed us in April 2003, but I’d never actually spoken with any of the male soldiers. Up until that moment, because of my traditional Islamic background, I had only interacted with female American soldiers. I became good friends with some American females, as a matter of fact. (There was one woman who was particularly nice. Her name was Lynndie. Her hair was almost as black as mine, only hers was shorter. She was in Iraq because she was interested in improving her Arabic, learning hummus and shish kabob recipes, and buying henna. The American army assigned her to take care of the kids at the Abu Ghraib orphanage.) In any case, this mysterious male soldier who popped out of nowhere politely said “good morning” and handed me a flyer. This is what the flyer said:
“Free workshops on diversity and tolerance. Sign up now!
"As an expression of our true love toward you, the Iraqi people, we are offering special workshops to teach you the importance of tolerance amongst you. We are offering you a model to follow – our model. Learn to love each other just like the whites, blacks, Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans in our country have always loved each other.
"Our goal is to make sure that you behave like good Sunnis, Shi’ites, Kurds, Chaldeans, and Turkmen after we’re gone. Cool? Our workshops will be held at an American camp near you. Free refreshments provided, courtesy of Halliburton.
"For more info, call 1-800-TRUE-LOVE.”
Thousands of copies of this leaflet are being handed out these days by the American military on the streets of Baghdad, Najaf, Mosul, Ramadi, Karbala, and Basra. (The U.S. troops had meant to hand them out in Fallujah as well, so they called the Fallujah city council to ask for a permit to pass out flyers in the downtown area. They left a voice message, but the Fallujans have not yet returned the phone call). The United States, being the mother figure in Iraqis’ lives, is deeply worried that Iraqis will start killing each other the moment it packs and goes home. And it has every reason to be concerned. First, Sunnis, Shi’ites, Kurds, and Chaldeans have been aiming canons at each other, not for years or decades, but for several centuries, just waiting for the right minute to fire. Furthermore, a more modern reason for a potentially devastating civil war in Iraq can be traced to events that developed after the country was graciously liberated from its wicked tyrant. You see, the American liberators made the unfortunate mistake of giving the Pepsi, McDonald’s, Mobil, and Windows contracts to the Sunnis; the Coca Cola, Burger King, Exxon, and Mac contracts to the Shi’ites; and the less popular, almost generic brands of soft drinks, fast food chains, gas stations, and computer software to the Kurds. This distribution of contracts along religious and ethnic lines was not deliberate. It was the unintended result of unwitting miscalculation (that is, the folks who had the responsibility of handing out the contracts were invited to a liberation-from-Saddam party in Baghdad and got drunk, so they weren’t fully aware at the time of what contracts they were giving to whom). Nevertheless, American officials have realized their error and are making sure that competition between Sunni, Shi’ite, and Kurdish businesses is fair for now and that each gets an equal number of billboards on the highways connecting Iraqi cities. However, it is feared that once the United States withdraws, corporate greed will take over in Iraq, financial lust will dominate the landscape, and all hell will break loose. Imagine the ugly picture: cutthroat competition between Sunni and Shi’ite trademarks; Shi’ite businesses monopolizing the date industry in the South and Sunnis retaliating by boycotting Shi’ite dates; the possibilities of corporate embezzlement, insider trading, and CEO misconduct; Kurds and Arabs using precious television network time (which could be used for more important things) to broadcast their commercials and promote their products; and (gasp!) the creation of biased corporate media. Even if things eventually become tranquil between Iraqi businesses, there is still the possibility of anti-globalization activists protesting them Seattle-style outside their corporate headquarters in Baghdad.
What, then, are the American troops doing while they’re here in Iraq to promote ethnic and religious tolerance among Iraqis and thereby lessen the chances of civil war? Like the responsible liberators they are, they’re doing plenty. In addition to holding the popular tolerance workshops, they have engaged in a magnificent program of grassroots-level organizing. They break up fights between Arab and Kurdish teenagers on the streets. They give time-out to Sunni school children who bully Shi’ite kids, and they ask them to go to their rooms and think about what they did. They started the Iraqi Idol show for young participants of all backgrounds to display their talents together. They send mass e-mails to Iraqi Muslims and Christians reminding them of important religious holidays and encouraging them to send each other Ramadan and Christmas cards. They give bus tours of Shi’ite Najaf to Sunni tourists. They set up an online dating service for young Iraqis of all backgrounds to meet. They are encouraging people in the warm southern city of Basra to send blankets, which are not infected by smallpox, to the colder Kurdish areas. They made racial profiling a felony punishable by five years in jail, 1 million dinars, or both. They organized Kurds who were prohibited from sitting in the front seats of Arab-owned buses to boycott the buses. In Abu Ghraib prison, they put Sunni and Shi’ite inmates together in the same cells so they have an opportunity to bond with each other and reconcile their differences. They even set a new punishment for those who dare to commit hate crimes: they deprive the offenders of America’s generosity by exiling them to a place that is beyond the American government’s concern, Detroit.
Fatima, a 20-year-old Shi’ite woman from the outskirts of Baghdad, wrote to Exxon:
“Dear Exxon, I used to think that Sunni people had horns and tails. I learned otherwise when I met Asma, a Sunni girl, while pumping lead-free gas at your station (thanks for doing a great job of refining our oil for us, by the way). Asma and I are now best friends. Thank you, Exxon. May the blessings of the Tigris and the Euphrates flow upon you.”
As an Iraqi, I am flattered by the unconditional love America has been showing my people for such a long time. Throughout the 1990s, we danced in the streets as we watched our dictator squirm from the hunger inflicted on him by sanctions. Our dictator’s wife, Sajida, developed a tumor, thanks to the depleted uranium the American army used on her in 1991. Our dictator’s sons Uday and Qusay developed severe digestive tract infections because the Marines polluted the water they drank. We gloated as we watched our tyrant’s daughter Hala suffer in hospitals because America’s trade embargo prohibited her from having medicine.
More recently, the American government has been willing to violate international law, defy the United Nations, alienate the international community, spend hundreds of billions of dollars (a noble act, especially since its own education and health systems are in dire need of the money), and even sacrifice the lives of its own sons and daughters. All this devotion just to liberate us from the evil dictator they accidentally supported a couple of decades ago (again, the person in charge of sending out foreign aid was drunk on the job. Otherwise, we know America would never have supported the man who gassed Halabja). We Iraqis are so cherished and pampered by the U.S. that other Arab countries are green with envy. We can’t help but wonder, what good did we do in our lives to deserve being singled out for such luxurious treatment and generous compassion? Because I’m an Iraqi, the world’s only superpower loves me. I couldn’t have asked for a higher honor.
The United States’ generosity toward Iraq is most brilliantly demonstrated by how it treats Iraqi kids. To assure each child is well taken care of, the U.S. extended its very own “No Child Left Behind” policy to Iraq’s precious little ones. The U.S. has gone out of its way to make sure that no Iraqi child is left behind without being orphaned, killed, maimed, starved, deformed, tortured, displaced, or simply made miserable.
The favors do not end there. It just so happens that the U.S. picked our land to be home to its largest embassy in the world. Even Israel doesn’t have that honor.
In short, the famous Lebanese-American writer Khalil Gibran described it best. “Life without love is like a tree without blossoms or fruit.” Indeed, life without love is like Iraq without American tanks, F-16s, depleted uranium, and cluster bombs. Perhaps the single best tool the United States has used to prevent civil war in Iraq has been the occupation itself. Since day one of America’s occupation of Iraq, Iraqis have been united like never before. Sunnis and Shi’ites, side by side, heroically display intra-Iraqi unity not seen since the 1920 revolution against the colonizers who were as ignorant of Iraq’s people as the current ones are. The Cradle of Civilization’s intelligence is not to be underestimated; they understand America’s divide and conquer politics and its imperialist interests. Thus, at their demonstrations they hold signs that denounce their differences and proudly declare the oneness of their country and their determination to free it. During the war last year, Iraqi Muslims defended a Jewish community center in Baghdad from looters. This year, Iraqis nationwide stood in defiant solidarity with their Sunni brothers and sisters in Fallujah and their Shi’ite brothers and sisters in Najaf. The media selflessly gave my eyes a reason to shed tears of joy when it showed me these demonstrations and displays of unity.
The day following my brief encounter with the American soldier, I went back to my place on the river. I knew he would be there, and he was, much to my delight, only this time he was rescuing a kitten from the top of a palm tree. I asked him if he would add yet another item to the endless list of favors he has done for Iraq. As expected, he agreed. So I gave him a bouquet of flowers (again, the same kind of flowers we greeted American soldiers with on liberation day), a basket of dates I had hand-picked myself, and a very short letter. I asked him to personally deliver these items to the addressee.
This is what my letter said:
“Dear Uncle Sam, please trust that we are arranging for you to have a very pleasant journey home before you manage to ignite the flames of civil war between us. We’ll miss you so much after you’re gone, we may or may not take it out on each other – I have no way of telling what the future holds for us, and I pray with all my heart that your war is the last war we ever have to endure. But for now, till you depart, know that I am grateful to you for uniting my country against you. Iraq’s daughter, Hawra Karama.”