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Portrait of an Iraqi Woman

Tuesday, March 25, 2003 at 9:53 AM

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It's almost a week since the war with Iraq started. Unprecedented media coverage has allowed us a peek into what it may be like from a soldier's perspective. A Cleveland area woman who used to call Baghdad home has been awake since the first day of the war. She shares her perspective with ideastream's Renita Jablonski.

Fatima is a 27-year-old Iraqi woman who doesn’t wish to use her real name. She’s turned down several interview requests from local TV news stations because she doesn’t want to show her face.

Fatima: The reason why I don’t want to show myself is because of him. That’s the reason why I don’t want to use my real name too.

Him is Saddam Hussein. Fatima grew up in Baghdad. She came to the Cleveland area about three years ago. It wasn’t an easy transition.

Fatima: It took me a while to learn that this is a free country and I just couldn’t believe it. You know, and every time I say something or do something, I’m like, I’m watching myself and I’m scared. Like every time I talk to my mother over the phone and we’re saying something about our government I used to, at the beginning, I used to, “Don’t say anything, they might come in now.” She goes well we’re in America, they’re not going to come here and I go oh, okay, I remember it.

There are other things that she would rather not remember. Most specifically, the images left in her mind after a childhood under Hussein’s regime.

Fatima: He used to put us in buses in schools and take us to witness the killing of someone in a public square, you know, we were just kids. You know, he’ll take us just to see how a father could kill his son and then pay for the bullets.

And now, she’s reliving even more difficult memories. Since last Wednesday, Fatima’s television has been tuned to a 24-hour cable news channel. She hasn’t slept much. She’s been late to work. She’s also made a lot of long-distance phone calls. Her father and sister are still in Baghdad.

Fatima: They really can’t say anything over the phone because they are, they get scared, because all they can say, “We’re okay, don’t worry about us.” The first night actually when they bombed I just run to the phone and I called them and I was crying hysterically, you know, I was just like crying like crazy. And then my dad said, “No, just don’t worry about us, we’re okay. Even if anything happens to us, you’re there, you’ll be, you’ll be our hope. Just don’t think of us, we’re okay. Don’t worry about us, we’ll figure out our way.” And that’s the way it’s been, and they keep saying this to me but I know what’s going on, I was there. I was there in the Gulf War and I know what’s going on and I know it’s not, there is no way that they can do this without killing civilians.

Fatima was 14 years old during the first Gulf War. She recalls the special after-school sessions her high school teacher would hold before the war started. They were supposed to prepare her and her peers for what to do once the U.S. began its attack.

Fatima: They used to keep us in school for like two, three extra hours and train us to tell us like you know, in case of a bomb, in case you were in the car what to do. And I remember some of the students were asking well what if it’s a chemical bomb, you know, she said, oh well then, we’re dead.

But of course, the after-school lectures did nothing to prepare Fatima for the reality of war - or the ruins that she would see her country in afterwards.

Fatima: I will never forget the first night the war started because me and sister, me and my sister were sleeping downstairs, because since then we started all of us to sleep downstairs because you never know if they hit you and you’re upstairs it’s hard, you know, and tough, so. And then all of a sudden I hear, I was hearing things but I thought I’m dreaming, you know. And then I heard my mom yelling and screaming, she goes, “Get up quickly! They’re bombing us!” I wasn’t even able to cry, you know, I wanted to cry but I couldn’t. I just felt like I’m very old, you know, I was 14 years-old but I just felt like my hair is turning white, that’s how scared I was. I remember my jaw was like, was going like, guh, guh, guh, guh, guh, guh, guh, you know, that’s how scared I was. I was all shaking.

Now her fear has reached a new level, with her dad and sister in the midst of yet another Gulf War. Fatima says that she was against U.S. military action in Iraq from the beginning.

Fatima: I was one of the people that were against the war, by all means, not because I’m one of Saddam’s supporters or not because I like him, actually I’m against him also by all means. But I just can’t see people killing people. You know, and I’ve been there in the Gulf War and I know what the war means.

And along with her fear, guilt…

Fatima: Every day I think of going there because I can’t stand, you know, my country being bombed. It’s just very difficult, it’s very difficult for me to realize that my country’s being bombed, that my people are under danger any second and I am here sitting and there’s nothing wrong with me.

Fatima says that she always believed that it would be up to the Iraqi people to come together and triumph over Saddam Hussein. But now, she says the United States must finish what it’s started.

Fatima: In my opinion, no matter who you going to kill in Baghdad, if you don’t kill him, you will not be able to achieve anything.

In Cleveland, Renita Jablonski, 90.3.

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