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ESSAY CONTAINS EXPLICIT CONTENT
EPF 2012 Finalist
Yesterday’s War, Today’s Iraq
My father left Iraq in the 1970s. He would not have recognised it, by the time I had gotten there. It was 2009 and Iraq had nearly car-bombed, kidnapped and executed itself into oblivion.
‘Cultures that may seem as durable as stone’ wrote Anthony Shadid, ‘can break like glass, leaving all the things that held them together unattended.’
And Iraq was broken. It’s shattered pieces unattended by the humming of generators and of U.S. drones overhead. Trust lay only in your family, in your tribe, in your sect. If you were lucky enough to be part of a sectarian majority, it lay in your neighborhood – now purged of rival tribal threats, both real and perceived.
The myth of Iraq a proud country, had stopped in my father’s time. Asir al thahabi. The golden age. Before Saddam, before the eight-year-war with Iran, before Kuwait, before sanctions, the myth before the fall. Today’s Iraq is many fractured pieces. A simmering federation of Sunni, Kurd, nationalistic and pro-Iranian Shia, whose first civil war has ended, whose second seems just at the corner. It’s a nation of many nations, lots of little failed states underneath the veil of a much larger one.They are identities by no means new. They have been laying dormant since the fall of the Ottomans, created alongside the artificial state carved out by the victorious imperial powers.
The goal of my project is to confront the multiple identities in Iraq today and examine their relationship to the greater Iraqi state. I have been living and working in Iraq since 2009 searching for a glimpse of the country that my father had left behind. I can’t see it. Perhaps it had never existed in the first place. A necessary nostalgia for better days, during such consistently disappointing ones. I don’t know yet.
If it does exist, however, it is within these smaller communities. Each vying for a future in the new Iraq. The project I am trying to fund, is an attempt to build a cultural narrative of the new Iraq.
Ayman Oghanna, 26, is an independent photographer and journalist working in the Arab World. A British-Iraqi, born and raised in London, he now lives out of Istanbul. His photography, writing and multimedia stories have appeared in The New York Times, The New York Times Sunday Review, Businessweek, The Guardian, The Economist, Time and Vice Magazine. He is currently based between Istanbul and Iraq, where he continues to work on ‘Yesterday’s War, Today’s Iraq’ an on going project on life in the new Iraq.