The Book of the Week is “Waiting for an Ordinary Day” by Farnaz Fassihi, published in 2008. This is the personal account of an Iranian-born American journalist employed by the Wall Street Journal who witnessed the American occupation of Iraq starting in 2003.
Sadly, after launching the war on false pretenses, in a bungled attempt to bring democracy to Iraq through forming a new government, the Americans inadvertently generated religious hatred within the country and hatred against themselves for various actions, such as: committing home invasions in Baghdad, war crimes at Abu Ghraib, and their exhibiting bigotry, ignorance and arrogance in the execution of the operation overall.
Among the many Iraqis with whom the author talked, was a military general and shopkeepers in Tikrit–Saddam Hussein’s hometown. They were still loyal to Saddam; they thought the Americans were imperialists, and that there would be intifada, jihad and resistance in Iraq. They were right. Iraq is sought after because it has oil and a prime location near the Persian Gulf. Religious strife has obstructed the United States from achieving its political, military and economic goals in Iraq.
Prior to the ousting of Saddam– a Sunni Muslim– and his Baath political party, Iraq was comprised of about 24 million people, 60% of whom were Shiite Muslims. After the start of the war in spring 2003, more-than-usual violence erupted between Sunnis and Shiites. There was looting of shops, schools, hospitals, gas stations, museums, etc. “Weeks after Baghdad’s fall, the city’s basic urban infrastructure– electricity, clean water, and sanitation services– is dysfunctional, and fuel and phone lines remain unrepaired.”
After Saddam’s death, the tables turned and the Americans allied with the Shiites and Kurds (rather than Sunnis), who became politically powerful. In the election for a one-year interim government, Shiites, who voted because they believed Allah wanted them to vote, were easily influenced and blindly obeyed their local clerics. The clerics, perceived as Allah’s representatives on earth, told the voters for whom to vote. Mercifully, fewer than one hundred people died in election-day violence.
Fassihi spoke with people from all walks of life, including a Sunni sheikh, and chief of the Bu-Issa tribe in Anbar province, 1 of 150 tribes in Iraq. He had eight sisters, nine brothers and three wives. The author also formed acquaintanceships and friendships with people who lost their lives, livelihoods and equanimity amidst the war. Iraqis told her that the atmosphere of fear and repression in American-occupied Iraq was just as oppressive as it was living under Saddam.
Read the book to learn of: Iraqi war stories heard or seen by the author, including kidnappings and torture (with the aim of monetary extortion), car bombings, mortar and suicide attacks, raids, ambushes, sniper shootings by the insurgents (Iraqis fighting against the Americans) and Iranian mercenaries (who were inciting religious violence); what New York City would be like if it were militarily occupied the same way Baghdad was in the fall of 2004; the dispute between the women arguing in favor of secular women’s rights and those arguing for women’s rights via traditional interpretation of sharia law; the author’s and many others’ fears and anguish at the war’s effects on their daily lives; and why Fassihi left Iraq.