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Iraq, 10 years on: Dalya’s memories
March 18, 2013
By The IRC
By Jordan Helton
“I still remember it like it was today,” Dalya says. “I remember 6am that morning when my mom got up and she told me, ‘War has started.’”
Dalya is one of thousands of Iraqi refugees resettled in the United States by the International Rescue Committee as insecurity and violence continue to plague the country a decade after the war began in 2003.
Though starting all over again in a new place is never easy, the environment and pace of life in Tucson, Ariz., where she and her family now live, has provided them with a “calm beginning.”
“You are happy because you feel safe,” she says. “No one will kidnap us. I will not walk somewhere and lose a limb. It’s a place that has law and order.”
After struggling to find a suitable job in her field—Dalya has a degree from Baghdad University that would require recertification in the U.S.—she found work as an interpreter for the IRC and other agencies and schools.
“I enjoy it a lot,” she says. “This is where I became inspired to pursue my future profession, for which I’m studying right now.”
Dalya’s new career goal, counseling survivors of torture and refugees dealing with trauma, is within reach. She will graduate next year with a bachelor’s degree in social work from Arizona State University, and plans to continue to work toward a master’s degree.
But when asked whether the country she left behind will experience such a positive revival, Dalya expresses doubts.
“The Iraq I know is gone forever and will never be back,” she says. “The generation that followed mine and the things they were forced to embrace … it’s very hard to correct.”
The deterioration of the communal ties that once held her neighborhood together and the amount of trauma and uncertainty people have experienced has wiped away old ways of life.
“I still love the people, love the culture,” she says. “I would pay anything to go just one day. But I would not be able to ever go back and live there.”
The Iraqi people were used to war before the U.S invasion, she says, and thought they knew what to expect. Dalya, 23 years old in 2003, had already lived through two wars herself. But the relative calm with which she and her mother greeted the invasion eluded them in the following days as the U.S. intensified its aerial campaign, leaving Dalya and her family sleep-deprived and anxious. She recalls that as the situation deteriorated over the next several years and the country devolved into sectarian warfare, “the amount of corruption, uncertainty and violence became tremendous.”
“What was happening was just the opposite of what we expected,” Dalya says. She thought the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime would bring an end to the fighting that had afflicted the country for decades. Instead, the country descended into chaos.
“Every day you’d go to work and you’d see dead bodies,” she recalls. “Nobody could stop, nobody takes them.”
At first, Dalya and her family refused to leave Baghdad, even though danger was ever present. “It was like gambling with your life, you don’t know,” she says. But constant threats of violence and persecution made it impossible for her family to stay.
“When we decided to move out, I remember it was the hardest day in our lives,” she says.
Dalya, her parents and her brother fled to Syria in 2007, where they stayed for almost three years before being resettled.
“We thought we would go out for some months or maybe a year and things would maybe be under control,” she says. “But every one of us, in our hearts, we knew that it would never be better again.”
Jordan Helton is an International Rescue Committee media relations intern, based in New York.
IRC Crisis Watch Report