The next month marks the tenth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, a fact that the majority of people are blissfully unaware of. It has been pushed to the back of people's minds, no longer a pressing news issue plastered all over the headlines.
The facts, figures, statistics and hallmark political events - the capture of Saddam Hussein probably being the biggest - are all there for anyone who wishes to read it, although this requires an active search. But numbers and graphs do little to pay tribute to the ongoing decade of suffering that has plagued an entire nation. What of Iraqis themselves? Those who lived and still live in Iraq endured not only the obvious taxation that is so often imposed on civilians caught in warfare - paying for the crimes of a dictatorial government with the lives of their women and children, the rubble that then became of their houses and the haunting memories that have now been etched on the minds of children and adults alike - but were also left to come to terms with these raw human losses in a country in which neighbours and friends no longer felt safe from one another.
You would be forgiven for thinking that Iraq is on the mend, dragging itself out of the crater left by the invasion, dusting off and beginning again. There has been for some time now a government in place, but the sheer intensity of the violence and the destruction of the country's infrastructure left a primed canvas for minority groups to wage their own wars against personal vendettas. There has always been present in Iraq a great number of coexisting groups - Kurds, Arabs, Shias and Sunnis to name the main players. In a climate such as that post-invasion, where small militias and hate groups could thrive easily, a culture of violence and hatred has been brewing such that acts of violence against particular sectarian groups have unfortunately become the norm. The gaping lack of any form of structure within the most basic systems within a society - for example, credible access to healthcare or the simplest right to feel safe within your own home, let alone country - has meant that any clamouring attempts by Iraqis to return to anything resembling normal life are continuously crushed by a government which fails to deliver anything to resurrect the country from the ashes left by the American and British forces.
These are the physical imprints of the war on Iraq as a country and its natives. But there are huge numbers of Iraqis living in other places, who had either left before the war or had been forced to leave after it. We too have felt the consequences of the war declared against our country and its old government - though it often feels as though it was against Iraqis themselves - not least of all through the personal stories and recounts of those members of our families still living back home. Growing up in Britain prior to the war, the reaction I received from people when they found out I am from Iraq was bland at best. On the majority of occasions I then had to provide them with a geographical context of my country; few people knew where it was, to them it was a vague Middle-Eastern country they may have encountered once or twice on the news previously. Post-2003, once I spoke the word 'Iraq', eyebrows would raise, mouths would open, and a distinctively awkward silence would follow. It was interesting watching people search their minds for what to say next once they realised your home country is currently under attack by theirs. I no longer had to explain where Iraq was, it was my turn to be shocked that not only did people know where it was but were also aware of my home city, Mosul, in the north. In my heart I thanked people who asked me what the situation was like because I was grateful for any small chance to raise awareness to the fact that, after the Americans had achieved their somewhat questionable goals - a topic for another, longer rant - all was not well and settled back in Iraq.
It is interesting for Iraqis such as myself who live in Britain and other places, mostly because the memories we have of the events of the past few years in our homeland are inextricably linked with the tangible memories of what we were doing in our distanced detached lives - I remember hearing those three words "We got him" as my neighbour's Christmas lights twinkled across the road and my much younger sister was excitedly planning which holiday films she would watch. We went to sleep hoping it would snow, excited for the holidays, and woke up to a new chapter in our country's history, Saddam's face on our screens instead of the Santas and Rudolphs my sister was hoping to watch.
Though I cannot speak for all Iraqis, I know that hearing about the revolutions of the Arab Spring leaves me with more than dampened spirits after the initial elation I feel for my fellow Arab nations. I cannot help the 'what ifs' that follow breathtaking inspiring images of Egyptian flags waving and lights all over the packed Tahrir Square of two years ago. What if Iraq had not had this enigmatic 'democracy' thrust upon it? What if we had been left, undisturbed and undivided, to write our own country's history? To unite as one body of people despite our religious and racial differences, to fight tyranny together and to ultimately rebuild our own society which not only accepts but celebrates the differences that are now costing us so many lives?
These thoughts are futile and the facts of our current situation remain. So what next? The future of Iraq is still uncertain. If you know or have known Iraqis, you will know the passion that exists in the soul of each Iraqi, and the innate patriotism that we are born with. It is these two traits that fuel in me a hope for my country and our people. Despite the barrage of assaults we have been through as a nation, we are not a people that dwell in self-pity. Take your time to find Iraqis and you will see - those back in Iraq more so - people flock together to laugh and joke and revel in this sense of community within Iraqi souls that you cannot stamp out with any simple weapon; this, after all that has been taken away, will always remain with us.
Though our country is a shadow of its former self, the Iraqi spirit is very much alive and aflame - in the streets of Baghdad, London, Stockholm, Washington, the world. This love of our people and our country gives me hope that what we have is not something we will let die. It may take another ten years, or another on top of that, or still more, but I have hope that one day I will return to Iraq and see a country that treasures each of its people regardless of their race or sect.Suggest a correction