March 19: Never Forget the Invasion of Iraq

US invasion of Iraq
US military tanks in the streets of Baghdad after the invasion.

 

They say that the US invasion of Iraq started on March 20th, but I heard the missiles on the 19th.

Today, March 19, 2018, marks the 15th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. On this day fifteen years ago, I was 13 years old sitting on my bed when I heard the first missile flying over the roof of our house. The rumbling sound of that missile will resonate in my ears forever. Seconds later, that missile would detonate, shaking our entire home, and marking a new and a very bloody chapter of lives in Iraq.

Because of that invasion, I lost my father, my home, and got separated from the rest of my family members who are now scattered all over the world.

However, this post is not intended to point fingers and say that invasion was a mistake. We, people who lived through the invasion, lost those most dear to us, and dealt with all of its unfortunate circumstances, understand that the invasion was not just a mistake, it was a crime against humanity.

It is important for us to be reminded that the US-led invasion of Iraq was devastating, and that devastation is lasting. We cannot move forward if we choose to forget and pretend nothing happened. It is not despite this, but because of this, that we need for a new and healthier relationship between Iraq and the United States.

I remember in early 2004, three American military Humvees stopped by my school one day. The soldiers walked in to deliver many boxes of school supplies. One of the soldiers approached me, and handed me some notebooks, candy, and two packs of MRE peanut butter. It was the first time i tried peanut butter and it is the one good thing that came out of the invasion.

I am a firm believer that Iraq and the United States can benefit so much from one another. From trade and economic prosperity to the security of the region and the world, these two nations must start forging new partnership based peace and long-lasting positive change.

So many people ask me today: “how do you feel about living in America, the country that invaded your home?” My answer is simple: the American people did not invade my country. They welcomed me in their homes.

America opened its doors for me, sheltered me, provided me with excellent education, and helped me rebuild my life once again. America is my home today and I love living here. At the same time, Iraq still remains my country of origins and I am very proud of that. That is where I learned to walk, talk, and read and write.

I hope you can join me today in remembering all of those who sacrificed their lives in that war, both Iraqis and Americans, and look forward to a brighter and stronger relationship between those two great nations.

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Dear Mom

Mom back in the days. Time and place are unknown.

Thank you for everything.

I was browsing through some of my old pictures from Iraq, and I came across this picture of my mom: a beautiful, elegant, fashionable, and most importantly, fierce Iraqi woman.

This International Women’s Day, and as we all celebrate the amazing women in our lives, I want to celebrate and thank my mom: a woman who did the impossible to help me get to where I am today. She truly defines what it means to be the best mom anyone could ask for.

I want to share one story about her.

In 2008, I was a refugee living with my mother and one of my brothers in Damascus, Syria. We had been living there for nearly two years after we had left Iraq in late 2006. And one day, I received the happiest news of my life: that I was going to the United States.

I had just received my acceptance letter to attend Union College in Schenectady, New York and also my student visa. I could not believe it at first, and I was so excited to go home and tell mom about it.

As I was climbing up the stairs to our fourth-floor apartment, with an acceptance letter in one hand and a visa in the other, it suddenly hit me: how am I supposed to leave mom alone in Syria?

My brother at that time was working in France, and so it was just mom and I for a few months. She was my best friend and support system. Her health wasn’t the best, and I knew it would be difficult for her to wave goodbye to her youngest child.

But I didn’t want to let these thoughts overtake my excitement, and I was so eager to tell mom about the great news I got.

It’s hard to put into words and describe the happiness I saw on mom’s face once I told her that I was going to finish my education in America. She saw her youngest child with an opportunity to receive the best education of his life. She was proud—and that made me even happier.

However, as we sat down to talk about it, I was starting to feel guilty that I might leave mom alone. So I asked her a very blunt question: “What do I do? Whatever you decide, mom, I will happily do it.”

And here’s why I said earlier that my mom is the best mother anyone could ask for.

“Throughout my entire life, I have worked so hard, and sacrificed so much, for you and your siblings to be successful. All I want for all of you is to finish your education and have a prosperous future. I give you my full blessings to go to America,” my mom told me with teary eyes.

Today, after nearly 10 years since the day I had that conversation with mom in our little apartment in Damascus, I am proud to say that I have made it in America.

After 4 years of separation, mom came to my my graduation from Union College in 2012.

But none of my successes in life would have been possible with you mom, and for that I say thank you.

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The Story of a Habibi in America

My name is Taif
Taif Jany in Paris, France.

My name is Taif (like Knife but with a T) and I’m just a habibi who lives in the United States with a big appetite.

I was born and raised in Baghdad. When I was 16 years old my father was kidnapped on his way home from work. I was forced to flee Iraq with my remaining family and seek refuge in Damascus, Syria. We’ve never heard a thing about dad.

After spending about two years in Syria, I came to the United  States as a student. I went to school at Union College in Schenectady, NY and moved to Washington, D.C. right after graduation.

Being alone in America, away from my family and my favorite falafel stands, I was  forced to teach myself how to cook. This is mostly because I really missed my mom’s homemade food, but also I started craving Iraqi food in general. When it comes to food, Iraq (in my humble opinion) is the hub of food in Western Asia (YES, IRAQ IS IN ASIA! Bet you didn’t know that.) From world-famous sumac kebabs and lamb stews, to dolma and masgoof (grilled fish), Iraq is where it’s at!

That being said, I quickly learned that America is a place of abundance in many ways, and food ingredients is no exception. In the United States, I can access many items that we don’t have in Iraq. One in particular has forever changed my life. Let me tell you all about it.

During my very first day of school at Union College, brand new to the United States I went to the dining hall for breakfast with few folks I met during orientation. I was blown away by the amount and variety of food options they had there. However, only one food item stood out to me the most. It was a tray full of crispy red strips of meat. It looked so delicious I didn’t even bother asking what it was. My friends were also very insisting that I should give it a try. After I took the first bite, my friends were like “oh how do you like pork?” and I responded “this is the best thing ever what is it?” And that’s how I learned about BACON!

Very quickly, I was also brainwashed by America’s steak culture. If you ask any of my friends what I love to eat at any day and anytime, they would say steak. I don’t care what cut or shape it is, grilled, seared, or broiled, I love STEAK.

Infusing Iraqi flavors into America’s diverse food options makes cooking a very exciting hobby for me. I see it as a vehicle to bridge our cultures and end decades of misinformation. I firmly believe that Iraqis and Americans can benefit so much by learning about one another. Heck, we have so much in common: we are good looking, we are fun, and we love food.

My dad always loved the people of America and I now see why. His loss did not go in vain. It helped me adapt to and appreciate the people who are around me, no matter where I am.

I understand that not everybody here can relate to me being an Iraqi, and not everyone loves to cook or experiment different cuisines. However, I  know that food is the best way to get to know people and learn about their different backgrounds and cultures. Let’s eat!

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