Posted by on March 22, 2013 in Blog

By Jennine Vari

Spring 2013 Intern

During this week’s 10-year anniversary of Iraq, we’ve been focusing on the political lessons learned in Iraq and how to avoid committing the same foreign policy and intelligence mistakes. But as we analyze the effects of the Iraq war, the human element is lost in the shuffle. Too often forgotten are those who lost their homes, loved ones, and country in both Iraq wars. To help bring this to life, Iraqi American poet Dunya Mikhail has tried to convey her experiences during and after the Gulf War through her writings.

Mikhail was born in Baghdad in 1965, but she was forced to flee in the wake of the first Gulf War when her writings attracted the attention of Saddam Hussein’s government. The regime decided that her work wasn’t as innocent as it seemed and labeled it as subversive, so in the mid-1990’s she moved to Jordan before finally settling in the US, where she started a family and became a citizen. Even though she hasn’t returned to her homeland since, Mikhail relives and pieces together her experiences through her poetry. In an interview with NPR, she speaks about her experiences growing up in the war-torn country, sleeping on the roof of her family’s home during the sweltering summers until the air raid sirens sounded, and losing her father, not to violence but to the lack of adequate medical care.

Even after she left the country, the unrest continued to impact her family. Four years ago, her husband’s niece was kidnapped by a group of masked men, a crime far too common. To this day, she has not been found.

These experiences and reflections on Iraq have allowed her to create a career by publishing five books in Arabic and one in English. She was also awarded the UN Human Rights Award for Freedom of Writing in 2001 and received the Griffin Prize in 2006. Mikhail continues to write and is currently a lecturer of Arabic at Oakland University in Michigan.

Her experiences are similar to those of many other Iraqis who have also lost their country. This week’s anniversary should be an opportunity to reflect on the effects that political conflicts have had on people. It has torn apart families and forced others from their homes. Many victims awake from this “dream” but are unable to forget. “We wake up to find that the war survives with us,” says Mikhail. “Poetry is not medicine. It’s an X-ray. It helps you see the wound and understand it. We all feel alienated because of this continuous violence in the world.”

Through her poetry, we can begin to understand how a war that is so alien to many Americans, affects the lives of those who are forced to relive it every day. It makes the conflict more than death tolls and 30-second news segments by forcing the reader to acknowledge the human element.

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