Inside the Middle East
November 30, 2010
Posted: 942 GMT
Passengers wait at ticket counter at Baghdad International Airport (Getty Images )
Passengers wait at ticket counter at Baghdad International Airport (Getty Images )

It’s really impressive to look up at the flight board at Baghdad International Airport these days – Abu Dhabi, Amman, Beirut, Istanbul, Cairo, Tehran are a few of the available daily trips.

I remember the days when commercial flights were limited to the one or two Royal Jordanian ones that were usually overbooked and getting out on one of those was always an “inshalla” – “God willing” scenario.

I also remember the days when you would glance around the airport and your average passenger would be the tattooed private security guy , the journalist, or the Iraqi member of parliament who would spend more time in Amman than in Baghdad.

Today, it was a handful of the usual suspects and a different crowd -  mostly Iraqi refugees, families who have packed their lives into one suitcase per person and set off on their journey to new homes.

As I queued up to get a coffee, a young Iraqi man approached me – I had met him a few years ago through work, he is now a refugee.

He asked me if I was going to the US – he was, along with his family.

Where are you going I asked – “Indiana” he said with a bit of a confused look, like he was not sure if I had heard of it. I told him I had visited Indiana a few years ago; “is it nice?” he asked.. I said yes, but very cold in the winter, we both laughed– Iraqis are more immune to the scorching heat of their country, not the harsh winters of the Midwest.

Why are you leaving I asked – he smiled and said “why would I stay? ...What should I stay for?” a familiar answer I have been hearing a lot lately from Iraqi colleagues, friends and people we meet—it’s also an answer that says it all and there was no reason to follow-up on that... I wished him luck as he walked away.

As we prepared for boarding I stood between two families – behind me were two Christian brothers, probably in their mid-thirties and their 20 something year old wives.  One of the women was carrying her few months old baby. They seemed to be very happy, one of them asked me if I worked with the International Organization for Migration. I said “no, I am a journalist”. And we chatted a bit; they were heading to Los Angeles and were looking forward to starting a new life there.

In front of me, there was little Abdullah, he was about four or five and kept running around as his mother was carrying her other child, a newborn and couldn’t chase Abdullah so all she would do is keep calling him “Aboodi, Aboodi, Abdallah!! Come here” -his dad was overwhelmed carrying the baby bag and a couple of carry-ons.

Abdullah’s parents looked like they are in their late 30's.  As they got closer to the gate, the two looked at each other and exchanged one of the best smiles I have ever seen – excitement, happiness and most definitely relief.

Like little Abdullah, there was Rita, a giggly girl with long blonde piggy tails, hovering around her dad in her pink jacket and a pink Barbie backpack she dragged on the ground as they went through security screening – every member of her family was carrying stuff, so she had to carry her own bag . Rita like her father seemed really excited about the trip and kept asking him about the plane and he was all smiles answering her many questions.

The final moments of any trip to Baghdad is a crammed bus ride from the terminal to the plane – I stood near the door and looked around at the faces of people who within moments will be leaving their homeland forever, not knowing if they will ever be back.  I could not begin to imagine what that feels like.

Two elderly women, one a Christian, the other a veiled Muslim, sat in the corner next to me and started talking to each other about where they were headed.

“We are going to California, to San Diego” the Muslim woman said “Santiago” the Christian repeated.. “No, no” she interrupted “Santiago is in Chile, San Diego is different, we had never heard of it until they told us we are going there”..

I chuckled and the Muslim woman looked at me and laughed – she started chatting with me.

The Christian woman had a speech impediment so I couldn’t completely understand what she was saying, but soon the women started talking about threats and being forced to leave Iraq.

The Muslim woman explained that her son worked for an American organization and that is why they were threatened.

All of a sudden the Christian woman broke down crying making it more difficult to understand what she was saying other than “kaneesa... kaneesa” or “church... church”. But there was no need for words to explain how she was feeling.

The October 31st siege of the Sayidat al-Najat Church in Baghdad, the worst attack on Iraq’s Christian minority in the past seven years,  was a  horrific hours-long hostage ordeal that left 53 Christians dead. This attack and others that have  followed have left many in the dwindling community paralyzed by fear.

The Muslim woman, all teary eyed, put her hand on the Christian’s and looked up at me  “See what they have done to our country? ... They have separated the Iraqis... The Christians are good people and now look what they are doing to them”

For these two women there are memories of better days in Iraq;  days of less freedoms, but more security.  Days that many of Iraq’s older generation reminisce over as they repeatedly tell you about how all Iraqis Shiite, Sunni and Christian coexisted in harmony.

That is not the Iraq that little Rita and little Abdullah will remember and for the two toddlers in their mother’s arms, Iraq will be a place they hear about, but might never see.

The scene was heartbreaking. The two women had never met, but had one thing in common:  pain over leaving their country  they loved,  but could no longer call home.

I tried to hold back my tears, but couldn't.  At that moment I was not a journalist, but a human being affected by the sorrow of those around me.  I did not speak to many of them, but the thought of having to flee my home and to leave behind all that is familiar and venture into the unknown brought tears to my eyes.

I couldn’t stop thinking of what these families have gone through over the years and the hard new life that awaits them as refugees – the familiar plight of many of the more than two million Iraqis who have escaped the violence before them.

As we got out of the bus and headed to the plane, the Christian woman still wiping her tears, pulled out her cross a cross hidden beneath her clothes and kissed it as she walked up the stairs and into the plane.

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Filed under: Christianity •Iraq •Islam

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George Cardona   November 30th, 2010 2:29 pm ET

It was extremely boring to have read this story. The author really sucks

Andrew   November 30th, 2010 3:26 pm ET

The problem Iraq faces right now is lack of leadership. They have various politicians who want to be elected, but they all depend on different interest groups supporting them, and those interest groups have vested interests including their religious and political persuasions. Iraq needs above everything else development of its infrastructure, such as the provision of clean water and uninterrupted electricity, to allow small businesses to develop and prosper. It also needs leadership that is tough on crime. Development and peacekeeping are hampered by the vested interests of regional, tribal and religious groupings. Iraq needs a leader strong enough to rise above these vested interests and impose a vision of a united nation constructing its own infrastructure and the rule of law to help the nation prosper. Such a leader should be able to to overlook the conflicting interests of the different racial, tribal and religious groups in his nation and determine what is best for Iraq.

Loathsome, unpleasant and murderous as he was, Saddam Hussein was such a leader. Ask any Iraqi, except those few lucky enough to be able to emigrate to the USA, whether their life was better or worse before Saddam was toppled and then topped. Sadly, when the USA initiated its plan to depose Saddam, it did not and still does not have an adequate replacement. When the USA leaves Iraq, within a few years, will it be a better country than when they invaded? Of course the Baghdad airport has re-opened and possibly oil money may flow more freely. Otherwise, probably not much. Eventually, Iraq may get the strong leadership needed to make the country prosperous again.

Will the Iraqi people of the next generation really care how loathsome, unpleasant and murderous their new strong leadership is, if that leadership has brought economic prosperity, sustainable infrastructure and the rule of law to their country? After all, the people of the USA would be more than willing to live under the same conditions.

Tim   November 30th, 2010 3:37 pm ET

This really is a great story which takes you away from the start till the end! This shows so good how the West thinks that their way of living is the best and should be copied all around the world while most often people in developing countries are more living in harmony and happiness while in the West jealousy and agony has the upper hand

tommy fernandez   November 30th, 2010 4:23 pm ET

wow, now that is powerful journalism.

James   November 30th, 2010 4:37 pm ET

So the best and the brightest (or even the average Joes) are fleeing Iraq. Mission Accomplished!

cindygate   November 30th, 2010 7:12 pm ET

The human spirit cannot be conquered.

Sudas   November 30th, 2010 8:49 pm ET

I just want to comment about ( More freedom) and less security. Just yesterday, all the bars and the social clubs for writers and ordinary people were closed and for good in Baghdad, because people drink there ,and in the education ministery they have appointed 10000 male and only 2000 female as teachers and this is all against equal rights for women and freedoms that was given by the Constitution. so please don't say more freedom, yes more freedom for the extremists to implement their agendas, but no freedom for the educated secular people at all.

Chris   November 30th, 2010 11:19 pm ET

I love it. Thank you for the human touch and bringing the realities from far away home to us readers.

Ali   December 1st, 2010 7:08 am ET

A great Human story that shows the suffering of all Iraqis. As an Iraqi American and whenever I speak to a distant relative, I only hear that so and so had left Iraq and now they are in the US, UK, Canada, UAE, Australia etc.. Everybody in Iraq is suffering now and it is about time that the world should know about it. It is not a dictator or a weak government that Iraqis need, but it is the fact that Iraqis never had a government that represented them, cared for them and offered them a better life. Iraqis need a chance to live, inside or outside Iraq.

Team   December 1st, 2010 10:12 pm ET

Thank you for providing something that touches the heart instead of destorying it.

Yasir   December 2nd, 2010 2:19 am ET

is this what we deserve?

R.M.   December 4th, 2010 1:02 am ET

This story was amazing. Thank you for bringing insight and a true look at what can happen to someone's life. My family and I made that journey of starting over with only 2 suit cases after the Gulf War. Leaving everything behind. My memories are bittersweet and even though I was a young girl I can still remember all of it. I can understand these people's pain that you speak of and the sadness of knowing you can never go back. Thank you again for your story.

P.S. – NOT BORING and you are TERRIFIC, it's great to hear someone's first hand account without the propaganda that the media spins on current events sometimes.

Nina   December 5th, 2010 5:48 pm ET


Bravo!! Excellent Post. You said it all.

Many people from Iraq view the US as invaders. Even though Saddam Hussein was treacherous, he was able to lead a cohesive country. Now it is fragmented with conflict between the different Muslim tribes.

It seems to me that America has not learned the lessons from the Vietnam war. The loss of life is catastrophic and tragic for all involved. Not to mention the psychological and physical traumas that will reside deep with the individual and manifest in physical as well as emotional scaring for the rest of the individual's life. Very sad! ~ Nina

tishebov   December 7th, 2010 12:19 am ET

What are we doing in Iraq anyway? No, seriously. Don't tell me it was WMD stockpiles because there were none. Nor mention Saddam was "a bad man" because our Chinese friends raped Tibet and rolled tanks over civilians in Tienanmen Sq and there was no call to arms to "invade China".

So what then? Surely it was not for Iraqi OIL, was it? What a horrible thought.

Adam   December 7th, 2010 9:03 pm ET

@ Andrew some of the things you say make some sense but overall very asinine. Take into account all of the poor shi'a majority that were pushed out of their homes, murdered, and had all of their spiritual and political figures martyred by Saddam. You clearly do not know what you are talking about otherwise you would know that Iraq does have a government in place and has had such for about 2 months now. Furthermore Allawi's Bloc is supported by a majority of the sunni as well as the Kurds and the Shi'a that it represents.

TC   December 16th, 2010 12:04 pm ET

First, they say they hate the USA and UK because these two nations were the most involved in overthrowing Saddam and occupying Iraq. Now, no combat troops remain - the result, educated and better off Iraqis are leaving in droves.

Yet where do they wish to go? To the USA and the UK, of course, because underneath all the stupid propaganda, they know the truth. They leave behind a country that, despite claims otherwise, it seems that most don't ever want to see again. They will return one day to visit family, but not to remember the good old days and see the sights.

Terribly sad.

Captain America   December 20th, 2010 11:33 am ET

The Iraqis are not trying to move to America. Your confusing them with the Mexicans.

Even Americans are trying to get out of America, before the FED destroys the dollar and completely kills the feature of the USA.

Iraqis know this and they don't wish to live in food stamp America. America is the "Land of the broke and the home of the homeless".

miriam   December 21st, 2010 5:53 pm ET


I don't know where you are heading but if you don't like the liberal, democratic, capitalist model, the other alternatives may well consider defamation as an offence comparable to treason!

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