Iraq six years on — waving hello or goodbye?
By Aws Qusay
In fact, I and most Iraqis could not believe Saddam Hussein was really on his way out six years ago. Even after his statue was toppled in Firdos Square, many believed his real plan to eject the Americans would come, and that the easy invasion was really an ambush. In the end it kind of was, though not of Saddam’s doing.
When U.S. soldiers first came, I remember them sitting on their tanks, waving hello. As a student of English, I was curious and eager to talk to them, even though I still worried about what Saddam’s people would do if I was seen. A U.S. soldier told me he’d defend me from Saddam even if he only had the small pistol strapped to his leg, which made me laugh, but my father took him seriously, and was hopeful. Some soldiers shouted “shaku maku”, meaning “what’s up” in Iraqi slang, eliciting shy smiles and nervous waves from Iraqis.
During a regular American house-to-house search they tumbled upon my family celebrating a birthday, and they stayed for a while at our invitation, cheering with us. We swapped phone numbers, took photos together, and they even stayed to watch the Oprah Winfrey Show with us on TV.
Little did we know that a Sunni-led insurgency and Shi’ite militia uprising was brewing, and that I would soon witness people being shot in the head on my way to work.
The sectarian bloodshed began in earnest when militants destroyed a revered Shi’ite shrine in Samarra in February 2006, and the slaughter continued into the following year. Many Iraqis blame the United States for triggering the catastrophe. Every day saw more bodies in the street.
My exchanges with the Americans stopped — being a “traitor” was a death sentence. There were no more “shaku makus” from the Americans either, and the sight of a U.S. troop convoy would put other drivers on edge. Often nervous and young, U.S. troops gained a reputation among Iraqis for shooting first and asking questions later.
The violence has since quietened down, and talk now has turned to the departure of U.S. forces by the end of 2011.A television advertisement urging national unity shows U.S. troops leaving and collecting their gear while children play soccer, with the slogan “They leave, we stay”.
The joke in Iraq is “We are killed, displaced or emigrate. They stay”.
Some Iraqis can’t wait for the U.S. troops to leave, but I’m worried violence will flare when they are gone. Some from both camps do not believe U.S. forces are really leaving.
I personally miss my chats with them, and have rarely seen them recently as they slowly withdraw from towns and cities. A few days ago I saw a U.S. soldier in the street waving to people as they passed by.
It wasn’t clear to me if he was waving hello or goodbye.