In Iraq, Remembering a Day That Changed Two Countries Forever

Though abhorring the September 11 attacks, many Iraqis recall it as an event used to justify the disastrous invasion of their country

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A girl looks on at a refugee camp near Qandil mountain, a border zone in northeastern Iraq / Reuters

BAGHDAD -- The tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks has sparked round-the-clock television coverage in the U.S and reams of front-page stories detailing the feelings of sadness, horror, and rage Americans continue to feel about the deadliest strike to ever occur on their soil. Here in Iraq, by contrast, it has barely rated a mention.

The Iraqi government made no official comment about the anniversary of the attacks, and Iraq's main television news channels focused on anti-corruption protests in the southern city of Basra and the murder of a prominent Iraqi journalist. Azzaman, Iraq's best-selling newspaper, didn't devote a single article to the attacks, instead devoting much of its front page to coverage of an escalating feud between Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and the former head of the country's Public Integrity Commission. Both for members of Parliament and ordinary Iraqis in the streets of Baghdad, Sept. 11, 2011, is just another wearying day in a country beset by violence, political paralysis, and a deep, lingering sense that conditions aren't likely to improve anytime soon.

None of which is to suggest that Iraqis are ignorant of what took place in New York City, Washington, and Shanksville, Pa., 10 years ago Sunday.  Millions of Iraqis saw the attacks on live television and are deeply familiar with the details of what took place. But they have strong and conflicted feelings about the strikes themselves. Many ordinary Iraqis go out of their way to speak of their revulsion at the deaths of so many innocents at the hands of their fellow Muslims. At the same time, they believe the attacks were used to justify the 2003 American invasion of their country and the bloody civil war which followed.

Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of the Iraqi parliament, embodies those contradictions. Othman speaks fluent English and is a secular politician who frequently argues for the rights of women and Iraq's ethnic and religious minorities. Like most Kurdish politicians, he is openly and staunchly pro-American. But Othman argues that the American focus on the 9/11 attacks obscures the fact that tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed in terrorist attacks within Iraq in the eight years since the U.S invasion.

"September 11 was a terrible crime that killed 3,000 innocent people," Othman said in an interview. "But the number of people killed in Iraq since September 11 is much, much bigger than the number of Americans who died.  And no one in the world seems to know or care."

Ahmad Abdulhussein is the cultural editor of Al-Sabaah, a large government-owned newspaper. A poet, he was in Toronto on Sept. 11, 2001, and he says he still remembers the "panic and terror" he saw on the faces of Americans in the city. Abdulhussein also remembers moments of anti-Islamic ugliness in the immediate aftermath of the attack, including seeing an American man physically shove a young Muslim woman in a burqa away from a city bus. 

He was so shaken that he wrote a poem days after the attack called "Eye for an Eye." Written in English and sardonically dedicated to both Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush, the work was a full-throated condemnation of both the attacks and the paranoia that followed. "We slaughtered each other, in order not to awaken the universe," he wrote.

Presented by

Yochi J. Dreazen

Yochi Dreazen is writer-in-residence at the Center for a New American Security and a contributing editor for The Atlantic.

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