‘Iraqis cannot forget what Americans have done here’

Cathy Breen, November 29, 2012

“It is not written in our hearts, it is carved in our hearts.” I awoke this morning still shaken with these words in my head.

Yesterday I was in Ramadi and Fallujah. Instead of bringing a message of caring, of empathy for their suffering and a desire for peace, my presence as someone from the U.S, seemed to open wounds that are unfathomably deep.

I sat in on a lecture, given in English, to maybe fifty or more young men and women at a college in Ramadi. They were all about 22 and 23 years of age, in their last year of a 5-year program. That means they were about 13 or 14 years old during the U.S. led invasion and beginning of the occupation. I was invited to speak by the president as an “honored guest” after the lecture. To my embarrassment the professor graciously hurried through his lecture on my account. I had everyone’s attention. It was awkward for me, and after introducing myself, I said I would be grateful to hear from them. There was only silence. I am sure my words sounded empty, trite and artificial.

Then a young man in the front row only a couple of feet from me said in a quiet voice “We have nothing to say. The last years have been only sad ones.” Again there was silence.

Sami, my host from Najaf and part of the Muslim Peacemaker Team, stood and shared. He told the story of how, after the U.S. bombing assaults on Fallujah, he and others came from the Shia cities of Najaf and Karbala, to carry out a symbolic act of cleaning up rubble and trash in the streets of Fallujah. This gesture, he said, melted hearts and healed some of the brokenness between Sunni and Shia. He
spoke of the delegation of peacemakers from the United States who were just in Najaf for twelve days, of the work to build bridges and seek reconciliation.

An impassioned young woman from the middle of the lecture hall spoke up. It was obviously not easy for her. “It is not,” she said, “about lack of water and electricity [something I had mentioned]. You have destroyed everything. You have destroyed our country. You have destroyed what is inside of us! You have destroyed our ancient civilization. You have taken our smiles from us. You have
taken our dreams!”

Someone asked, “Why did you this? What did we do to you that you would do this to us?”

“Iraqis cannot forget what Americans have done here,” said another. “They destroyed the childhood. You don’t destroy everything and then say ‘We’re sorry.’ “You don’t commit crimes and then say ‘Sorry.’”

“To bomb us and then send teams to do investigations on the effects of the bombs…No, it will not be forgotten. It is not written on our hearts, it is carved in our hearts.”

We are happy to make bridges between people, said the president of the college, but we will not forget. What can you do? In Fallujah 30% of the babies are born deformed.” What can you do?

He spoke of how he’d met an American soldier in the airport. He was part of the Special Forces in Iraq. The soldier told him “The bible tells us not to kill. But we were taught to kill, to kill for nothing. Just kill. I am so sorry.”

“Build bridges? the president repeated. Apologize? he said. What can you do?” There was no rancor in his tone or demeanor, only anger and deep pain.

A young man said….The U.S. is still here. There are fifteen thousand people at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. [and 5,000 security personal to protect them]. They have their collaborators. The war is not over.

We later visited a Sheik in Fallujah in his home. He and Sami embraced warmly and he welcomed us into the sitting area. In the course of our sharing we spoke of our visit to nearby Ramadi, of what was said there. “War always results in two losers,” he said sorrowfully.

Cathy Breen works with Voices for Creative Non-Violence and is a Catholic Worker at Mary House in New York City. She lived in Iraq prior to the U.S. invasion in 2003 and during the occupation.




55 Responses to “‘Iraqis cannot forget what Americans have done here’”

  1. From above:
    Sheik in Fallujah: "War always results in two losers." Truer words have rarely been spoken.

  2. War always results in two losers. True, but some lose more than others.

  3. Thank you for sharing, Cathy. It was very moving. Unsettling, but in a necessary way. Apologies aren’t good enough, we just need to stop the war machine, and not get to a place where more apologies are needed. Thanks again.

  4. Bush and his cronies: Let's destroy a country and waste a trillion dollars on ourselves.

    I know where the real war criminals are.

  5. Hold the accursed war criminals to account! Every damned last one of them. I don't need to list their names, the world knows full well who they are.

  6. Well the the US needs to do something to at least try and make it right. It was a grotesque injustice what we Americans did and/or allowed to happen to the Iraqi people and it will take eons to make it right again, but we are obligated to make amends until the scales are in balance again. The first step is the prosecution of the war criminals. We need to make it happen. It is long overdue. We must also pay reparations and our government must officially apologize. http://warcriminalswatch.org/index.php/take-actiohttp://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Bush_Adminis

  7. And when the last troop has withdrawn, the depleted uranium will still be there, deforming the unborn and destroying the lives of those born whole. It's so awful.

  8. PROSECUTE WHO?
    The US was not alone when it was decided to persecute Iraq only the most visible player in the game.
    There is no longer an Iraq and that is how it was planned and successively carried out.
    Today multinationals are exploiting every resource left witin Iraq for it also has large deposits of minerals and natural gas to fuel the electrical needs of huge steel plants and chemical production fron oil etc. 25 nations participated in Iraq destruction and today they are carving up its future.
    Kurdistan for all intents and purposes is a US israel protectorate and was ally in invasion.
    Americans are afraid of losing a%tax on homes and school loans and say reparations should be paid; as long asit does not cost them a dime OK.
    NGO’s are but part of conquering forces and an integral part of US/EURO expansionism..
    Janitors who clean up the mess left behind and even as in Iraq. And many places are the instigators who holer humanitarian democracy and wring their hands after blood is spilled.
    A Fantacy world.

  9. Unfortunately, the present administration ignores and covers up the past while it continues and amplifies the same corrupt policies as the last administration. How can the US honestly apologize on one hand to Iraqis while continuing the same or worse warmongering elsewhere?

  10. # RAQ WAR = Revisionism of NAZI FASCIST Invasion of Poland 1939
    IRAQ NEO-NAZI FASCIST PUPPET REGIME = Revisinism of regimes, led by pre-BUSH, Adolf Hitler
    # GWB = Adolf Hitler Revisited
    # post-2000 WMD LIES = Waffen-SS and SD Operation Himmler (killing 1 million Iraqis)
    # 1991-2002 WMD lies = STARVATION HOLOCAUST/MAKING MONEY WITH SANCTIONS (killing 1,2 million iraqis = GHWB + CLINTON + BUSH + J. MAJOR + BLAIR + ALLBRIGHT) = Revisionism of Nazi holocaust
    # GULF WAR = PRETEXT FOR HOLOCAUST with LIES OF GHWB + PR Company – and with PSYOP Nurse Nayrah deception
    # PNAC + Wolfowitz Doctine = MEIN KAMPF II
    # BUSH DOCTRINE = equaling with POLICY OF ADOLF HITLER also

  11. Well they can't…honestly…apologize. Everything needs to change. It doesn't mean we should not try to make it happen just because the war profiteers want to keep their MIC gravy train going.

  12. I used to be anti-war. It's something like anti-flatulence.

  13. Dear Guest,
    The American people did not "allow" this to happen. The American people through the electoral process NEVER get a chance to vote for a righteous person who has a conscience. If every single American were to stage a 70 million man protest, nothing would change. If 3/4th of all Americans opposed the destruction of a MidEast country, nothing would change. The U.S. needs to renounce all contracts for the development of oil in Iraq and vacate the country completely. Leaving behind a pile of cash would be OK if reputable people managed the funds. No Americans build roads, bridges, infrastructure, nothing. Americans cannot be trusted to participate in the reconstruction of what they destroyed. We need to all leave immediately and exit Iraq en masse without delay or concern for what we leave behind with an official apology and a resolve to prosecute our war criminals in order to balance the scales of justice.

  14. One Marine's account of his four tours in Iraq may be instructive: "On my first tour, we were told to shoot bad guys; second tour, shoot everybody; third tour, soccer balls to kids; fourth tour, we handed out weapons to everybody."

  15. The US can pay into a fund and let some more trustworthy organizations handle the repairs.

  16. No, the American people absolutely "allowed" this to happen. At the time of the invasion in March 2003, the war had somewhere close to a 70% approval rating. Those Americans who objected were popularly denounced as traitors or modern-day Nazi sympathizers. I do not disagree with the substance of the rest of your post though.

  17. The US is disgusting. An ugly, killing machine!

  18. We did the same thing to Yugoslavia , and I think we did it to Libya and are still doing it to Afghanistan .

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  20. They will never forget, because they will never have normal life anymore.

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  32. th US should have wiped the iraqis off the map

  33. The actions of a few do not speak for the majority.

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  36. This powerful short article will unfortunately never make it to the mainstream press. Can you imagine CNN reading the text written here?

    We've caused such horrible suffering and there's nothing we can do about it. I forgive myself for being an American.

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  47. After I initially commented I clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- check box and I have really skinny feet so the shoe was true to my size. It might be narrow if you have wider feet. For me they fit perfect…!!

  48. To bomb us and then send teams to do investigations on the effects of the bombs…No, it will not be forgotten. It is not written on our hearts, it is carved in our hearts.”

  49. After I initially commented I clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added edu – check box and I have really skinny feet so the shoe was true to my size. It might be narrow if you have wider feet. For me they fit perfect.

  50. On my first tour, we were told to shoot bad guys; second tour, shoot everybody; third tour, soccer balls to kids; fourth tour, we handed out weapons to everybody."..!!!

  51. Let's destroy a country and waste a trillion dollars on ourselves. I know where the real war criminals are.

  52. Yes the words are true and the resonate on my heart strings. Though war often results in two losers. Most would rather be a fighting loser than a dead war opposer. "For God, Country, and Family!"

  53. I ask you now in retrospect about your confidence in your comments knowing that when America left that the terrorists have now recovered 80% of Iraq. The terrorist group ISIS have seized the vital equipment that American's left for Iraqi police and military to use to defend themselves and their citizens. Now that the terrorists have reclaimed their turf do you think that the attempt to defend their country will go unpunished. I think not! The terrorists will now choke that country until it's near death, for having hope of a better life, for believing that women should go to school/think, fighting for freedom of religion! This war may have been masked with a whole lot of skepticism but the true problem is resurfacing now again that America the "war hungry" has left Iraq to fend for herself.

  54. Then a young man in the front row only a couple of feet from me said in a quiet voice “We have nothing to say. The last years have been only sad ones.”

  55. my host from Najaf and part of the Muslim Peacemaker Team, stood and shared. He told the story of how, after the U.S. bombing assaults on Fallujah,