Iraq six years on — waving hello or goodbye?

March 20, 2009

By Aws Qusay

BAGHDAD – When U.S. bombs rained on Baghdad in 2003, rocking the ground beneath me, I would never have imagined U.S. soldiers would later join my family for a birthday party.

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.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

Thanks for sharing. Great summary.

Posted by Peter Litwin | Report as abusive

I hope the Iraqi people can rise above religious differences and work together for peace.If not, then all of the suffering and death among Iraqis and Americans will have been a waste. I also hope my fellow Americans will look into the role our leaders played in this catastrophe. Where international laws were violated, and where the U.S. Constitution was violated they must pay a price, or we are no different than terrorists. I believe our military performed gallantly, but unfortunately they were called upon to operate outside of their purposes. The military objectives were achieved in record time. The question of whether those objectives were lawful was not theirs to determine, and as a matter of record many high ranking officers knew they were not and said so.

Posted by tmac1945 | Report as abusive

Many times we watch just the big peoples game, forgeting the real world transformation who’s happening around us in our lifes,no matter the place , time or year.political culture is cicliqal(repetition on a diffrent number of years), but the real change ocurs among the people(they judge, they forgive, they learn to love or accept)US troops forst gain the bad reputation of shooting and then asking,but in time they become one with the people, they feed dreams,gvie wings and the ideea of freedom,the local start to fell more protected.So nomatter what the high purpose is there , the people judge and give good and bad marks to other people(soldiers)rong at first from the both sides, and better by time.So if their is a good mark somewhere for this war and Nato troops there,This mark should be given just to the content of this army=people who protected, lived,died and loved with people(iraqky civilians)My distinguish regards for everybody who particaped to this missionAlice B.

Posted by Burca Alice Larisa | Report as abusive

The truth is always offensive to either side of the rainbow … so please don’t show my previous comment. That way many of those whom I criticize won’t came after you, or me…

Posted by Provincialul | Report as abusive