Feature: 20 years after U.S. invasion, Xinhua’s Iraqi reporter hopes tragedy won’t be repeated

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In the early morning of March 20, 2003, sirens suddenly wailed in Baghdad. Upon hearing explosions, Jamal Hashim Ahmed, a Xinhua News Agency reporter based in Baghdad, immediately used a satellite phone to report that to the editorial office of Xinhua.

Jamal’s timely message made Xinhua the first media outlet to broadcast the outbreak of the Iraq War to the world. As a journalist, Jamal is proud. “I am proud of being part of the scoop, which came as a result of hard work and cooperation with my Chinese colleagues.”

However, as an Iraqi, Jamal is heavy-hearted to witness his country going through destruction and bloodshed. “Unfortunately, it happened, and I had the opportunity to convey to the world, especially the Chinese people, the pain and suffering of my people after the U.S. invasion of my country.”

Jamal has continued to work for Xinhua over the past 20 years under extremely difficult and dangerous conditions attributable to the war, with shootings, explosions and deadly suicide attacks happening nearly every day. Sometimes, insecurity forced him to stay in the office for days, or sneak home through different paths.

“I was once caught in the crossfire in 2006 while on a minibus between insurgents and U.S. forces in western Baghdad. Mortars and machine gun fire were very close to me, and I couldn’t hide, only waiting for what will happen,” Jamal recalled, noting that the distance between him and the U.S. forces was less than 100 meters.

The Iraq War led to an estimated 200,000 to 250,000 civilian deaths. Since that war, civilian casualties have become commonplace in Iraq. In 2006, widespread sectarian vendettas across Iraq killed thousands of civilians. In 2014, the Islamic State conquered about one third of Iraqi land, resulting in a large number of civilian deaths. From October 2019 to early 2020, nationwide protests caused more than 500 deaths in Iraq. Each of these incidents had an emotional impact on Jamal.

“It is so easy for me and everyone to be part of the casualties in a forgotten piece of news,” he said.

During the past 20 years, most of Jamal’s reports are related to the war. For Jamal, the most challenging part of his work under such circumstances is how to dig out the truth. In the face of all kinds of information, including political propaganda from the Americans or other parties, Jamal and his colleagues have to verify every piece of information and crosscheck it.

“I have witnessed the turning of the wheel of history that brought about fundamental changes on various levels, including the political and social levels, not only in my country but in the Middle East and the entire world, which makes up the bulk of my stories,” said Jamal.

Before the Iraq War, Washington claimed that Saddam Hussein’s government had possessed weapons of mass destruction and had direct links to al-Qaeda, but so many years after the invasion of Iraq, the United States has failed to find any evidence to support its allegation.

The invasion of Iraq proved that the United States was acting unilaterally and irresponsibly, lacking peaceful options when dealing with global crises, Jamal stressed.

Many Iraqis, who had hoped for a better future in 2003, are disappointed after realizing that they were deceived by U.S. propaganda.

Feature: 20 years after U.S. invasion, Xinhua's Iraqi reporter hopes tragedy won't be repeated

“Before the war, however, despite the huge economic and social difficulties resulting from the international sanctions, many things were relatively under control, let’s say, much better than they are after 2003,” Jamal said, adding that before 2003, the society was more stable and safer because of the strength of the state and that people could get food and jobs more easily.

Since the invasion, Iraq has descended into political chaos, with peace and democracy promised by Washington being out of reach, Jamal said.

“The occupation actually destroyed the state system and substantially decimated the fabric of the Iraqi society, leading to chaos and sectarian strife that led to the mass killing of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis as well as the displacement of millions of others,” he said.

“The most pathetic losers of the Iraq War appeared to be the poor people in Iraq, who suffer from mass killings, terrorism, poverty, unemployment and corruption,” Jamal said.

“It still takes time to undo the catastrophic impact of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and I hope our tragedy will not be repeated again,” he added.  ■

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