Sinan Antoon’s Iraq War Diary


Last month, the excellent Jadaliyya site published extracts from poet-writer-translator Sinan Antoon’s Iraq war-time diary entitled A Barbarian in Rome. Below the opening paras:

[The following are excerpts from a longer text in the form of a diary kept during the war]

“ I have freed millions from barbarism.”

George W. Bush, The Guardian, Sunday, June 15, 2008.


“Are you going home for the holidays?” asked a colleague of mine some years ago in the elevator. It is a typical and legitimate question, but if you happen to be from Baghdad, as I am, formulating an answer is not a simple task. The immediate one that came to mind was: have you watched the news in the last four years? But I am too drained to engage in the conversation that would likely follow, or in witnessing the effects of ephemeral guilt in an awkward situation. I should just forgive my colleague.

This is how it is in Rome. For most, news of wars fought against the barbarians in distant lands is a distraction at best. Even the emperor himself spoke recently of “Iraq fatigue.” Yes, there are murmurs and a debate and so on, but. . .

As much as I try not to, I am forced to return everyday, but not to a physical space. You see, the family home, the one in which I was born, was sold five years ago. My aunt, the last member of the family who was left in Baghdad, fled to Amman, Jordan, when it became impossible for a 72-year-old woman to carry on amid explosions.

So I answer as we part company on the ground floor:

– Actually, am not going home. Too many deadlines!

– Have a nice break!

– You too.

“deadline: 2. In former times, a line in prison or prison camp marking a boundary beyond which prisoners were forbidden to go on pain of death.”


Iraq is scattered on websites. A woman writes about the palm tree she planted in her little garden and how she goes back to check on it every evening. . .on Google Earth. She can only water it with her tears a few continents away.


On a trip to Amman a few years ago a young man stood out among the Royal Jordanian flight passengers. Most of the passengers were Jordanians and Jordanian-Americans going home with their families. There were a few Caucasians who looked like they might be conducting business. He had no carry-on luggage. Travels light. Crew cut, broad shoulders, sunglasses he kept on the entire trip, and headphones. The music was loud enough for me to hear the noise myself. It sounded like heavy metal. He couldn’t have been more than twenty or so.

When we arrived in Amman he was approached by a Jordanian man in a suit who was waiting outside the gate with a sign. He took him to a special express line through passport and security. Our Jordanian brethren know how to take care of their guests.

Like Hell, Iraq is very easy to enter, but difficult to exit. Here was one of the many agents of death rushing in.

The sign the Jordanian man was carrying read “Blackwater.”

(cts. here)

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1 Response

  1. Poo says:

    Selfish as it may be, I have always been grateful to have spent the bulk of my time in a country where all wars were referred to as “over there.” If and when the “big one” goes off, I want to be able to ask, “Did you hear that noise?”

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