Back in Baghdad: Iraq 20 Years On

The very appropriately named  14th of Ramadan Mosque lights up at dusk as the day’s siyam, or fasting, concludes, an iftaar, the evening meal that breaks the fast, is initiated. ©2023 Derek Henry Flood

Baghdad- I returned to the Iraqi capital by road via a nearly identical route I took twenty years ago, two weeks from now. It was the utterly avoidable, wholly unnecessary war we could have avoided. Somewhat similar to Afghanistan, Iraq has been through decades of war that also predates the American-helmed invasions in 1991 and 2003 because of its invasions of Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990. Under the late president, Saddam Hussein, Iraq was dangerous power during its regional zenith. Hussein saw himself and his nation, well ethnic Arabs from his sect at least, as locked in an almost cosmic struggle with ‘Persia’ ie Iran. Hussein wasn’t in a lifelong quest to battle the armed forces of the United States and its allies. He wanted to check Iran within the region and severely handicap it from exporting its Shia revolutionary velayet-e-faqih (wilayat al-faqih in Arabic )ideology-rule of the jurisprudent-which could or would undermine his own secular personality cult.

Also like Afghanistan, the goal posts kept moving for the Americans. From eradicating WMDs to regime change to ridding Iraq of its 20th century Arab nationalist Ba’ath ideology to building a confessional democracy, the mission creep was never ending. Iraq has suffered greatly for this deadly set of mismatched policies foisted upon it twenty years ago. I became concerned when the American soldiers I encountered seemed to know nothing about the land they had just invaded. They had been sold a months or weeks long 1991 war model that lasted 8.5 years AND saw troops return in 2014 to help Iraqis battle and dismantle to IS proto-state. It was an epic disaster for all involved.

I almost didn’t make it here, not because of visa difficulties but because of what happened after I paid $100 for my cross border taxi ride in Amman. I went back to my hotel excited to Whatsapp a semi long lost colleague in Barcelona that I was sort of recreating our April 2003 journey. But her Whatsapp was no longer registered. No worries I would just DM her on twitter. Wait, Her twitter profile had vanished. Not dormant but as if it never existed. Then google.

Her name was Ana Alba Garcîa and when we met at a dinner for foreign journalists in Amman 20 years ago this week she was writing for a Catalan-language daily called Avui (‘today’ like Aujourd’hui in French). We ended up staying with this Kurdish manufacturing magnate and his English wife and their two Tamil maids from then war-torn Sri Lanka in the couple’s Abdoun neighbourhood mansion next door to the Saudi ambassador’s residence. We did the trip together, along with a German cameraman and it was the quintessence of a formative experience in those early days of the terror wars.

She was a soft spoken, diligent reporter who brought the news of this fractious, mesmorising region home to Barcelonins as they had their morning coffee. Ana and I had last met in a tiny Irish pub in Barcelona’s central warrens of Barri Gotic and she calmly disclosed she was away from her post in Jerusalem, where she was then working for El Periodico, because she was being treated for cancer in the Catalan capital. I didn’t keep in touch with her during the lockdown because, social networks aside, I had been abruptly cut off from the rest of my life outside the United States. I felt it was almost futile to keep in touch with my friends in the EU and elsewhere because there was no way to really see them.

Ana died of her illness on 6 May 2020 during Catalunya’s harsh lockdown. She won an award for her past reporting in Iraq a month before her death. While not close friends, we were kindred spirits. Ana was a light in this world that has been crushingly extinguished. I was heartbroken to learn of her death. I thought she might even be en route to Baghdad to revisit it like myself. I had a vision of us bumping into each other in Firdows square on the anniversary of the fall of the regime here. When we were last in touch she spoke of hoping to turn the corner of her suffering and return to her post in Jerusalem. She was optimistic. She was a mere 48 years old. As I type this I still can’t believe she’s gone.

Descanse en paz Ana. Mujer. Periodista, Leyenda.