Lessons From a Decade Reporting on Women During the Iraq War
August 8, 2019 12:13 PM   Subscribe

When I speak before Western audiences about my years covering the war in Iraq as a journalist for McClatchy Newspapers, someone inevitably asks, “What was it like to be a woman over there?”

Hannah Allam writes,
To pass the time in traffic snarls, my friend and translator Ban, a literature buff who used to tell me Iraq was waiting for Godot, invented a game called Is That the One? We’d sit in the backseat and peer out the windows, looking for cars that sat a little too low. “There it is!” I’d yell, spotting a Mercedes that seemed suspiciously heavy, as if it were crammed with explosives. “Is that the one?” I’d ask Ban, meaning, “Is that the car bomb that’s about to blow us to smithereens?” “No! That’s the one!” she’d reply, pointing out a flatbed truck stacked with unmarked boxes. At the time, we found this endlessly entertaining and not the least bit macabre.

When your days hover so closely to death, the pursuit of fun becomes thrilling and a little reckless. It’s as if you know you’re on your way out, so why not really live it up? After the U.S. military imposed a curfew in 2003, Iraqi women friends would often crash in my room. We’d play music and dance our hearts out, twirling until we forgot that we were in a dingy hotel room with shatterproof tape on the windows and flak vests by the door. A few Iraqi women I knew swallowed blackmarket pain pills or smoked hashish mixed with tobacco. They got manicures even when insurgents began tossing Molotov cocktails through the salon windows. Some undergrads at Baghdad University wore tight skirts and left their hair uncovered in defiance of flyers promising death for girls who didn’t veil.
Arablit, Launching Tomorrow: ‘Our Women on the Ground’

Zahra Hankir's website for the anthology, Our Women on the Ground
posted by Ahmad Khani (3 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
The first link was a beautiful read. I may buy the book. Thanks for this post!
posted by WalkerWestridge at 1:18 PM on August 8, 2019

Oh this is great. Thank you
I observed that tough exterior in hundreds of Iraqi women I met over the years. The elderly women trudging through the southern marshes with heavy sacks of reeds strapped to bowed backs. The stoic mothers looking for their sons among the corpses strewn at the scene of a suicide bombing. The pregnant militant who put a gun to my head in a Sadr City alleyway, and my Iraqi female friend who calmly swatted it away and lectured the attacker about her terrible manners.

Those sorts of stories accumulated until they formed an archetype: the tragic yet resilient Iraqi woman, a metaphor for the country itself. In hindsight, it seems so facile to see Iraqi women only through the prism of their war-ravaged lives, but how else do you report a story where pain is etched on the face of every woman you interview?

Even though several women correspondents covered Iraq, there was an unspoken understanding that if you delved too deeply into women’s lives, you risked being labeled as soft, or missing the point. And the point, at least for many of our male colleagues, was the combat, the “bang-bang,” in the parlance of war photographers. I’ll never forget the sting when one of my male colleagues let out a deep sigh as I told him about a piece I was writing on civilians: “Oh, Hannah and her PIPS.” The acronym, he said, stood for “Poor Iraqi People Stories.”
posted by spamandkimchi at 2:52 PM on August 8, 2019 [12 favorites]

Thank you for posting this.
These female voices need much more exposure in our first world Media.
posted by adamvasco at 4:48 PM on August 8, 2019 [4 favorites]

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