The Security Studies Group recently took time to discuss the ongoing situation in Iraq with Iraqi American citizen Dalia al-Aqidi. She was a participant in the Iraq War as well as a native of that nation. Here is what she had to tell us about her perspective on the current situation in Iraq, and the way forward.
What do you think of the protests in Iraq today?
I am 100% in support of the protests by the Iraqi people against the Iranians. There have been grassroots public protests since October against corruption and the poisonous Iranian influence. We all know what the Iranian regime has been doing by empowering the pro-Iran Shia militias. These militias have been killing innocents.
These people in Tahrir square are the young generation of Iraqis who don’t want to follow any foreign agenda – not Iranian nor even American! They want a free Iraq. They don’t believe that any religious groups should be involved in ruling the country. They just want institutions that can provide a decent life for them, for the young generation. They want to have normal lives like any other. They are young people. They want to go to universities, build families, have kids. What they’re asking for, though, is drinking water! It’s electricity! They want to stop the corruption because the corruption is so sky-high that these basic needs can’t be met.
Being a minister or a member of parliament shouldn’t make you a millionaire. But that’s how it is, and that’s what these people protesting are reacting to here.
Now that’s different from the attack on the US embassy. It was a very sad day when they attacked the Embassy. It was good that it did not become another Benghazi. Benghazi was personal to me. Chris Stevens, the ambassador killed in Benghazi, is the man who convinced me to come to America. We got political asylum in 1993 thanks to his work in Saudi Arabia. He was a lower-level Secretary in Saudi Arabia at that time. That means that Benghazi is personal to me. I did not want to see our Baghdad embassy turn into another Benghazi, as it almost did.
By the way, I would love to meet the guy who designed the windows at the embassy. Did you see how hard they tried to break his windows? His company should make an ad out of the video of the attack.
That attack on the embassy was not a legitimate protest like the media often said. This was an attack by members of militias on the US embassy. I kept trying to reach out to American media outlets to help them understand, but they were not interested in hearing that part of the story. They insisted on calling this militia attack on the US embassy a ‘protest’ by ‘protesters.’ They were all getting their orders from Qassem Suleimani. Thank God that Suleimani is dead. I’m so proud of President Trump for defending American interests there by ordering that attack. The world is better and safer without Qassem Suleimani in it. I hope that these Hezbollah leaders learn their lesson.
What do you think are the most important reforms or changes for Iraq right now?
Change the elections, and the laws governing them. New elections are important, but the laws governing the elections need to change first. The current laws are what allowed all the corrupt parliament members to be elected.
The whole world needs to look at what the Shi’a militias and some of the Iraqi security forces are doing to the honest protesters. The young protesters are being killed, tortured and nobody is doing anything. I’m glad that yesterday 16 countries asked for an investigation, but the Iraqi government is not going to let that happen without real pressure from outside.
It’s like the fall of Mosul, which nobody took responsibility for. Not even Maliki, who played a vital part in the fall of the city of Mosul. He was a strongly sectarian person. As Prime Minister, he ordered the Iraqi security forces to withdraw and leave the Sunnis within Mosul at the mercy of the Islamic State.
I am not sectarian. This Sunni and Shia feud is terrible. In 2005, the Mahdi Army kidnapped my 16 year old cousin and two of his friends. I was so lucky that I managed to reach out to some politician figures in Najaf and get them released. Fortunately they were released after a few hours, but they had already been tortured nearly to death.
What hopes do you have for the long term future of Iraq?
This is just the beginning. Iraq now has freedom. Freedom of speech – yes, they get killed for it, but they stand up for it and exercise it. Journalists can publish, and they do publish in spite of the danger. We are looking at the future, and the future will be much brighter. It just takes time.
The future is what you see in Tahrir square and in the protests in other places. These are the future. They are the younger generation, the educated generation. They don’t even care about the clerics and the sectarian fight. They are young people, they want boyfriends and girlfriends and to go out together to cafes. They want to study music, poetry, which Baghdad has an ancient tradition of which the people of Iraq are justly proud. These young people want a country that is run by law, with strong institutions, free of foreign influence.
I really hope that the international community will stand by the Iraqi protesters. These are the peaceful protesters, who have been subject to violence but who have been peaceful themselves. They are being hunted and killed by the militias, but they refuse to use violence.
It’s ironic, actually. When we located and killed al Baghdadi, it was with the help of the Iraqis. The reigned Prime Minister even bragged that the Iraqis had helped us. There was one sniper near Tahrir square. Nobody looked for him and he is free. I wonder why they can’t locate the one sniper who murdered tens of protesters. Somehow he can’t be found. One sniper firing from an area cordoned off by security forces. He was inside the area in one of the buildings near Tahrir square. He was there for quite a while and nobody stopped him. Testimony from the protests suggest it was just one. One! So I have my doubts about the security forces. I wouldn’t say all of them, but some of them have been complicit in the over six hundred murders of protesters in these demonstrations.
In Iraq they call these young protesters “the PUBG generation.” This is from a video game, one which is very popular in Iraq. Iraqis dancing “the PUBG dance” in the middle of them being targeted by security forces/snipers. They do these dances even as they’re being fired upon. They are so brave. I could not be more proud of them.
Tell me how you got involved with the war to overthrow Ba’athism in Iraq?
It was a long time ago when I started. I was a young adult in my early 20s. After I left Iraq I was very active in the Iraqi movements abroad against Saddam Hussein. He was a brutal dictator and I lived there during the Iran Iraq War.
I’ve been a journalist and I’ve covered war zones and conflicts before the liberation of Iraq. It was a liberation! I went to Iraq in 2004 as a journalist, doing talk shows and working for Alhurrah. That’s when I got first contact with the military and with the troops in Iraq. In 2007 I was offered a job as an advisor to the Public Affairs office at MNSTC-I [pronounced “Mini-sticky,” she means the Multinational Security Transition Command, Iraq – BAP]. I was training media office in the Iraqi security ministry, Defense ministry, MOI [Ministry of the Interior, which controlled the police –BAP]. Through my work with them I got very close to the troops and to my colleagues at the US embassy. We used to call ourselves trailer trash because we were all living in trailers around the palace.
I supported President Bush’s decision to liberate Iraq. I am thankful for him. I voted for him twice, and I would vote for him again and again. If it wasn’t for America, Iraq would still be under Saddam – or maybe Uday or Qusay.
What did you think of your time with America’s troops?
The Americans were working so hard to make things happen for the good of Iraq. They were working harder, with an open heart, than the Iraqi military was – more than the Iraqi politicians! When Iraqis talked to me, they would say, “You support the invaders!” I don’t blame America. I blame the Iraqis from day one. These were the people who were managing all the ministries and look at the outcome.
I was with the troops whenever I would go to do the training. I enjoyed my time with them. I have so many memories. A group that was working with one of the ministries, an issue came up with an issue about an orphanage in Baghdad. The orphanage director was handcuffing kids to their beds. One of the soldiers brought me the file on this. While he was telling me the story, he was crying. He could not believe that people could be so cruel to young orphans.
This is one of the stories that moved me. You know after all I’m a journalist, so I’ve tried to contact the Iraqis that were responsible, and the answers I got were so cold. It was the American side who helped to make sure that the kids were moved to places where they’d be safe.
As we were living, a bunch of people back in these trailers, in the evening as we’d all sit together outside, we formed a café called “TTC.” “Trailer Trash Café.” We had our own bunker, which the security detail built for us right down among the trailers. We painted and decorated it. That was where we celebrated the 4th of July with a barbecue. We formed a great relationship, sitting around as the mortars came in, sharing stories while waiting for the rounds to stop.
The “Trailer Trash Café” Bunker, Baghdad, 2007
You really build a strong bond in those situations. We built a bond that will last forever. We had shared feelings, we all were under attack together. A T-wall means a lot to us, because we know what a T-wall is. [She refers to the ubiquitous bomb-resistant concrete walls, “T” shaped because they had a broad base, which per David Kilcullen’s strategy were used to separate areas of Baghdad suffering from sectarian strife. They were an important part in lowering the temperature so that the peace following the Awakening and Surge could take hold. They were also used as defensive measures on Coalition bases. –BAP] I have a small model T-wall to this day that everybody signed.
This experience made me love the American troops. I recognized the sacrifices these young men and women were making coming from Kentucky or Georgia, so young, and yet so committed to do what’s good for a foreign country. I never heard any of them ask “What’s good for us?” or “What’s in it for me?” Everyone was so sincere. That touched my heart, both as an Iraqi and as an American citizen. America is my home, but Iraq is kind of like my home town. I’m proud to be an American.
Any good stories?
One night at the café two kids [lower-enlisted servicemembers — BAP] passed by. They were stationed in Fallujah but were at the embassy for a hearing. This 19 year old was stationed at a checkpoint in Fallujah, fell in love with an Iraqi girl who was a teacher there and had to pass his checkpoint every day. Then she didn’t show up in the van a day or two. On the third day he asked, and she was being forced by her father to marry someone and she couldn’t go to work anymore. The soldier asked to marry her instead. I found it so beautiful that this young soldier asked this lady to talk to her father and ask for her hand. Of course the woman told him there was no way her father would agree, but I was so touched by it. I asked why he would even want to marry a woman he had barely talked with, and he said that he could not bear the idea that she would be in a kind of jail being married to a man who would not let her work. He wanted to bring her to America where she could be free.
We were under constant, daily attack. One time I was dehydrated and I went to sleep and slept so deeply that I didn’t hear the rounds come in. The next day my friends had tried to call me on the local cell phone like 20 times. I don’t know why they didn’t check my trailer! I was sound asleep.
Yes, I remember the daily attacks in 2007. It was the same where I was, mortars or rockets almost every morning. We’ve talked for quite a while now. Do you have any last things you definitely want to share with our audience?
I want to finish this up by saying that I have a flag that was flown over the Baghdad embassy on the 4th of July, 2007. I take it wherever I go, even to Beirut when I was stationed for work. It has an inscription that I treasure. It is my most valuable possession.