On Baghdad’s streets there is an almost a constant stream of traffic, interrupted regularly by military checkpoints. The traffic jams are due to a three-fold increase in the number of vehicles on Baghdad’s streets since the occupation began. The checkpoints and barricades are minimal attempts to create security out of the chaos of the Iraq War. Because of the constant fear of suicide attacks, Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and car bombs, Baghdad is inundated with concrete barriers similar to those seen during highway construction in the US. In areas of high security or importance, there are larger versions which are ten feet tall and two feet thick.
Many Iraqis I spoke with stressed the lack of security as the biggest impact of the occupation. Ghazi Farhan, an Iraqi from Ramadi echoed this common sentiment, "On a typical Iraqi day, before the war, there was stability, and security. A person could go out of his home any time. But now, the Iraqi people can’t leave their homes. They are afraid of Americans, kidnappers, murderers, attacks. So it is a very bad situation, it is an unstable, insecure situation."
Every day there are explosions in Baghdad and the gunfire is nearly constant. However, the violence generally takes place in specific neighborhoods and districts. In the areas where the violence is absent, people go about their lives, shopping at street markets and going to work like other people throughout the world.
The activities of insurgents and resistance fighters are not enough to keep all Iraqis locked in their homes. One bank manager in Baghdad, who wished to remain anonymous out of fear for his family, described his journey to work, "I leave for work at 7:30 from where I live; I get to my office at 8. We have power cuts every now and then, and when it is summer, then you are left with just unbearable heat. You have power cuts you have your computers cut off; your life is very difficult."
Current estimates place Iraq’s unemployment rate at 60-80%. The failure of industrial production and breakdown of supply systems are not the only reason for this. The bank manager explained another reason for this dire economic situation, "Dissolving the Army, the Government Structures and Associations, basically denied millions of people of their jobs." For those who are still employed, just getting home from work can be a harrowing experience: "On your way back, you may face an American convoy and insurgents or a car bomb may target this convoy, and you lose your life, for no reason. This is a daily experience. When you leave your house, you’re not certain that you’re coming back to your family because you may get trapped any time."
For women in Iraq the situation is increasingly difficult. Alaa, a young Kurdish Iraqi is always certain to wear her head covering whether going to the market or traveling to her college. Her boyfriend, Omar joked, "This is the new designer hijab," as she wore the scarf wrapped around her head like a bandana in the apartment. Many Iraqi women never wore a hijab inside or outside, even among men. The new fundamentalist tendency of the government has made this impossible.
Rana Alaiouby related her experience as a woman in Iraq, "Before the war, I could go anywhere in the city, at any time, and had nothing to fear. But now, the woman, she has no rights; there are no women’s rights, there is no kind of life for her in Iraq. What kind of life is it to have the right to stay all day in your home, locked inside for fear for your safety?"
Yet despite the situation, Iraqis continue their daily lives, interrupted at irregular intervals by various attacks and military actions. Many Iraqis believe that as long as there is an occupation, the daily attacks will continue.
Khalid Jarrar, an Iraqi now living in Amman explained, "Terrorism never happened or existed in Iraq before the occupation, and the only reason it’s not stopping is because the occupation is staying in Iraq."
Steven is an Iraqi refugee who traveled to Amman from Northern Iraq after the war began. He wished to keep his last name secret to protect his family who is still in Iraq. Steven also has many friends who, despite the war, still live in Iraq, "They are thinking all the time; how will I live and when will I die? They go to work in a bad situation and say God will bless us and keep us."
Many Iraqis still have hope for the future of their country, and work hard to persevere despite the conflict. The bank manager explained the nature of their hope, "Iraqis are very keen to regain their country, to restore peace, to restore security that was ruined by thirty-five years under Saddam and then under the American occupation. And we are endowed to do that. Iraq is endowed with resources, work force, and educated people. We are entitled to have a better life."
Brian Conley is a 25 year-old journalist and filmmaker. He is the founder of the Alive in Baghdad Project and has just returned from a six-week tour of Amman, Jordan and Baghdad. While he was there. the Alive in Baghdad Project focused on interviewing Iraqis living in and outside Baghdad. It is the goal of the Alive in Baghdad Project to make Westerners, and particularly Americans, more aware of the Iraqi experience and to begin to understand the occupation from the Iraqi perspective.