By Kilian Colin
On April 9, 2003, I woke up to the sounds of bombs.
My bed was shaking and my sister, who was sleeping in the bed next to me, was awake crying and shaking in her bed. It was like an earthquake with very scary sounds. Shards of glass from the windows covered my bed. My parents ran into the room. My father said let’s go downstairs.
We lived in a 1-bedroom apartment on the second floor. We went downstairs and knocked on our neighbor’s door. The neighbor opened the door and let us inside his apartment without saying a word. He was clad only in underwear and held a copy of Quran in his hand. His name was Abo-Allaa.
All five of us hid in a small storage room The bombs got louder. We could hear shots being fired. We didn’t know what was going on outside–perhaps some fighters were inside our building already– because the sounds of bullets came closer. My mother and Abo-Allaa were reading verses of Quran. They were repeating the same Ayya. We all thought it could be the last moments in our lives.
Suddenly, the shooting stopped. We all stayed silent without moving. Hours went by before Abo-Allaa finally decided to take a look outside. All was clear; we thanked God for our safety. Then we realized we were clad in our pajamas and started laughing.
We thanked Abo-Allaa and apologized for coming down to his house without notice. He totally understood, saying the most important thing is we were all safe now.
I opened the outside door and looked at the sky. It was crystal clear. It smelled like something was burning but I didn’t see any smoke. Bullets casings were everywhere in the street. Broken glass was everywhere. Still, it was better than the scary moments we’d just lived through.
I left the house a few minutes later to go buy Samoon (Iraqi bread) with my dad. The markets were about 0.2 miles from our apartment in the Sileekh neighborhood. The market was closed, and there was no bread. We noticed a big crowd near the main street and went to see what was happening.
People were watching a U.S. military parade on the street. It was my first time seeing Americans in person. Most of them looked pink or burned from the Iraq sun. Some soldiers were people of color. Many of them were waving, and people were waving back to them.
I asked my dad if it was ok to wave to them and he said, “It’s ok only if we do it together.” I smiled and waved back at the soldiers.
Later that afternoon, I saw people returning to their homes and carrying a lot of furniture with them. Some of them were driving fancy cars. My mom went to the balcony and asked a neighbor where these cars came from. He told her they were free for the taking outside the public market and said we should go and get one for ourselves.
My dad and I walked the two miles to the public market. When we arrived, the building was on fire. Crowds were looting; people I’d never seen in our neighborhood before. They looked different and spoke a different accent than we did.
They were the Shoroook, or eastern people, from Saddar City, previously known as Saddam City. They were considered 5th class citizens in Baghdad, having migrated from farms in the south and moved to Baghdad in the late 1950s. Many lived in poverty. Some were living in poverty. Many were reputed to be in gangs or working in prostitution.
Saddam Hussein helped the Shoroooks build a city, which they renamed from Althawra to Saddam City. He also opened many public schools, hospitals, and other public services. When the Shoroog people rebelled against Saddam in 1991, he jailed the protesters and ended his aid. Poverty returned, discrimination in Iraqi society continued for years after.
We saw the public market burning down, looked at each other, and I told my dad lets go back home. We were not thieves.
As we walked home, leaving the mess behind, we heard shooting coming from the public market and knew the gangs had arrived. We were told the U.S. soldiers opened the doors of the markets and other public building, allowing them to be looted.
This was one of the first major insults to the Iraqi people from the U.S. invasion. I felt fooled by their smiles and waving to us earlier in the day. I didn’t know they were heading to the market to open its doors to angry mobs.
Not long after I went back to school with a friend, seeing bomb damage everywhere. There were huge craters in the streets from the night of the invasion. We heard shots fired our way to school and knew it was either ethnic purges in the total absence of law enforcement or gangs fighting.
We arrived at my school and found it had been burned to the ground by the gangs. We saw one of my teachers with a sad look on his face and asked what should we do.
He told me “Son, I don’t know. The U.S. military is preventing us from opening our schools due to security concerns. Listen to the radio and wait for instructions from the military.”
A few days later, a group of Saddam loyalists threw a bomb at a U.S. vehicle in front of the Abu-Hanifa mosque in my neighborhood in the middle of the day. Two soldiers were killed; others were injured.
The soldiers who survived started shooting randomly at civilians on the super busy street next to the mosque. About 30 people were killed or injured. This was a turning point for the Iraq people, changing their perspective of the Americans as being messengers of democracy to invaders who came to terrorize and kill civilians in Iraq.
Attacks against the U.S. military continued around Iraq. Every time an attack occurred, the soldiers retaliated by shooting unarmed citizens, including women and children.
In 2005, my family moved to Syria, where we stayed as refugees until our vetting process was completed. We were admitted to the U.S. in 2011 as part of the lucky 0.01% of the refugee population getting a chance to be resettled, thanks to my father’s work history with the military in Baghdad.
I am a survivor of two wars, once in Iraq and then in Syria. What happened to me only happens in fairytale stories and Star Wars movie series, except it was real.
The reason I am telling my story today, on the 15th anniversary of the U.S. invasion, is to remind people about the ugliness of the wars that we fight under the name of democracy. There was no democracy brought to Iraq with that war. You cannot create democracies with bombing raids.
The invasion of Iraq should be forever a shame point in U.S. history. It should serve as a reminder of why we should never invade other countries again. The U.S. must stop going to wars and make other countries less safe.
What did Americans gain from this war but the loss of our soldiers’ lives and veterans who returned home with physical and emotional injuries? Our generation and the next generation will be paying for the national debt resulting from this shameful war.
Millions of Iraqis died, and millions more became refugees around the world. The dictatorship falling in this war was replaced by big mafias and urban gangs controlling Iraqi cities now.
Who benefited from this war? It’s the Wall Street thugs who marketed this war, either for petroleum or weapon sales, all at the expense of American taxpayers.
Do not go to war again, please.