Mohamed Hussein, an Iraqi reporter for the NYT, recently returned to Iraq from Syria where he had gone to escape the violence of Baghdad in 2006. He is amazed by the changes in security, grateful to the Americans, and warns of the dire consequences that will occur if the U.S. leaves Iraq before the gains in security are made permanent. Mohamed Hussein is an Iraqi employee of The New York Times in Baghdad. He left Iraq on New Year’s Day in 2007 to escape the sectarian violence from Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents who were both active in his mixed neighborhood. He returned last week, after 15 months out of Iraq. . . . Read the entire article. Wow. Of all places I would expect to see this article, the NYT was the last. My hats off to them for publishing it.
This from Mr. Hussein writing in the NYT:
BAGHDAD — I came back to Baghdad last week.
First, it is important to mention the main cause that made me leave everything behind and go to Syria. By the end of 2006 my neighborhood had become an unbearable place. No one could continue there. It was without any simple services, from bakery shops to the hospital and physicians. They all closed their doors and left.
But the real cause is something hidden inside me that affected me more. . . .
The other more important cause that made me leave was that it seemed like someone had started a campaign to assassinate everyone living in my area, no matter from which side -Sunni or Shiite - as they just needed numbers of people who had to be killed.
In Syria I did not really get any rest because although my wife and children came with me, my parents stayed behind. They were alone and they are both aged people, so they did not think anyone would target them. . . .
After spending more than a year in Syria one day my father called me saying: “You can now return, and do not worry. Everything is fine now.”
. . . I wanted to return, but at the same time I hesitated. I wanted to know if the situation there was as people said, or if they just exaggerated.
During my travel from Syria to Baghdad I was completely relaxed. There were no worries, no fear of looters and terrorists with Al Qaeda, or Ansar al-Sunna (Protectors of the Sunni), Jaish al-Mohammed (Army of Mohammed) who used to control everything on the expressway between Syria and Baghdad.
Then when we stopped to get some rest near a big restaurant called Bilaad ash-Sham I saw many Iraqi and Syrian buses filled with travelers, and many four-wheel-drive vehicles.
They told me that everything was going fine and that stories that I had heard about the security situation in some Baghdad districts were right.
I reached Baghdad at 6 a.m. . . .
. . . I had heard about: the huge difference in security, which was much better than when I left.
. . . It was a really strange feeling to see my neighborhood again. In some ways it was the same, in others different. The main road had become ugly because there are now many damaged buildings and shops, and I noticed the marks of bullets and shrapnel everywhere around.
At the end of the journey when we reached the main entrance of my neighborhood my mother told me “Just slow down and say ‘Asalaam alaikum,’ (Peace be with you). Do not tell them you were in Syria.” She was afraid they would think I was a wanted man who had run away.
At that moment everything I had heard before seemed not right and I became more anxious with each meter I came closer to the checkpoint. Then I turned my head to the left and I saw the biggest cement wall I have ever seen, which encircles my neighborhood.
There were two Iraqi soldiers standing at the checkpoint. One of them stopped me and told me to open the trunk and engine. The other smiled, saying: “It is the day of bombed cars.”
He inspected my car with an explosive detector device. The other was just looking at us and it seemed that he recognized my mother’s face because he said: “Hi, auntie.”
Now I felt really safe because those people were working properly, not like the security forces in my neighborhood before who were making a secure path during the night for militia members to pass through, targeting everything there.
I think that the Iraqi police and army are working in the right way because there is an American military center inside my neighborhood. But all the people I met said that if the Americans left, those militias would eat our flesh without mercy.
I spent my first night without hearing any kind of shooting and mortar bombing, not like a year earlier when my daughter was asking me about all the sounds around and I was telling her, “Do not panic, baby, that is fireworks.”
This morning I heard the man who sells cooking gas knocking on the cylinders shouting “gaz, gaz, gaz ” which is something that had not happened for two years in my neighborhood.
This meant that all the things I heard about the improvements are true. Even the people are more friendly and I can say that there is now a kind of mutual trust between the people and the soldiers, not like before when there was no trust between each other.
Now, maybe if we think deeply about it, we will find that each needs the other. People need the soldiers to secure them. At the same time the U.S. troops are now in a safe place, maybe they can have more than one Green Zone.
Will it stay safe or not?
I guess that all depends on the American troops, since we will not have qualified Iraqi forces soon. Although most Iraqi forces are sincere you find some have been infiltrated by groups of gunmen and sectarian people who made the mess all around us.
So we still need the Americans because if they intend to leave, there will be something like a hurricane which will extract everything - people, buildings and even trees. Everything that has happened and all that safety will be past, just like a sweet dream.
As people say in my neighborhood: “The Americans are now Ansar al Sunna.” Protectors of the Sunni.
Mohamed Hussein is an Iraqi employee of The New York Times in Baghdad. He left Iraq on New Year’s Day in 2007 to escape the sectarian violence from Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents who were both active in his mixed neighborhood. He returned last week, after 15 months out of Iraq. . . .
Read the entire article. Wow. Of all places I would expect to see this article, the NYT was the last. My hats off to them for publishing it.