Book Review: ‘IraqiGirl’

iraqi girlAfter nearly seven years of ongoing war and occupation, many in the United States are resigned to wait for December 2011—the promised date for final withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraqi soil. It’s been easier for Americans to ignore the Iraq War as headlines have faded as the war in Afghanistan becomes more prominent. But in Iraq, the war and occupation remain central to the lives of Iraqis where they are living with feeble security; a lack of basic services including electricity, water, and sanitary services; inadequate access to health care; and, a devastated economy.

While Americans discuss troop levels, battlefield tactics, and casualty rates, the stories from Iraq are much different. They include discussions of weeklong curfews, closure of schools, relatives that have been killed, and stories of those who families were forced to flee.

Americans have received fleeting glimpses of what Iraq really looks like over the years from the mainstream media. But far more powerful stories have been told by those Iraqis still on the ground. As the war and occupation began, a crop of Iraqi bloggers took the stage to stand as public witnesses to the ravages of war. Their work caused rise to a new genre of book—compilations of blog posts. Baghdad Burning by Riverbend and Iraq War Blog stand out as those that should be required reading for anyone studying the war.

A new book now joins that list of must-reads, IraqiGirl. This compilation of blog posts stands out from the rest because of the age of the writer. Hadiya published her first post on July 29, 2004 at the age of 15. Her writing focuses far more on her family and school than on the politics and battlefield that consumed the writing of Riverbend and others. On one hand, it makes the book less useful for scholars of the war but on the other, it is an essential tool for activists and those teaching younger generations in the United States and around the world about what it’s like to live with war surrounding you.
The daily trauma of war is illuminated in nearly every blog post. Hadiya writes, “At the beginning of the war, when we heard an explosion we called all the family to make sure that they are fine. But now because the explosions don’t stop all day, we stopped calling each other.”

As the war goes on, the writing and story lines remain a constant. Hadiya worries about school, her family, and her friends. One keeps reading hoping to see a change on the ground. After all, President George W. Bush repeatedly assured the American public that we were “succeeding”. But one of Hadiya’s most oft-repeated phrases of the book is that “things are getting worse.” Indeed, even in her final few posts in November 2007, she writes, “The basic fact is that we are still insecure and in danger even when we are in our own homes.”

Born in 1989, she has lived almost her entire life under war or occupation, as the Gulf War started in 1991. She puts the basics that many take for granted into perspective. “When I was a little girl, I once asked my mother if there is any country where there is electricity all day? I couldn’t imagine that! How could they have electricity all the time when we only had four to seven hours of it? And many days, we didn’t have any electricity at all.”

Hadiya doesn’t write about hope in her posts, but she continually displays it. Her dedication to her schooling (now age 20, she is enrolled in pharmacy school at the University of Mosul) and in her continued posts (since the publication of the book, she has continued her blog) are strong indicators that she, like most Iraqis, believes that the future will be better.

The Iraqi people should have hope. The occupation is starting to wind down, development of oil production provides possibilities for reconstruction of the country, and Iraq has a rich history to draw upon. But while there is hope, peril also looms closely. Political reconciliation is desperately needed, economic development is lagging, and many complex political questions remain unresolved. Reading IraqiGirl reminds one of the great obligations the U.S. has to the Iraqi people as it starts to withdraw. The brave children who have grown up in a war zone, such as Hadiya, are owed the most.

Erik Leaver is the policy outreach director for Foreign Policy In Focus.