Iraq, war without end

Home is the hardest place to find for children of immigrants. But for me, nothing hits closer to home than when a bomb goes off in Baghdad. Last week, just days after American troops pulled out of Iraq, 63 people died and 176 were wounded in Baghdad.

As the son of Iraqis who left home in the late '70s, I have only a few fading memories of my last visit to Basra. I remember our grandparents' home, my uncle's dog, the size of the tires on his Jeep. I remember the smell distinctly, but I can't put it into words. I remember feeling small; after all, I was only 5.

For more than 20 years now I have watched Iraq's tragedies only through television or the Internet. We make frantic phone calls to Iraq, and the voices on the other end are lost in fuzzy reception. There is no awe in their shock. My aunt said that it felt like "hell opened loose" last Thursday, heat lingering in the air as it rose from the rubble and twisted metal around Baghdad.

The violence follows Iraqis like the ghost of Saddam past. As we hang up the phone with our families, we are all wondering: Where do we go from here? With U.S. troops arriving home in time for the holidays, many are asking: Why were they there in the first place? We should have asked ourselves these questions many years ago.

My cousin grew up with my grandparents in Iraq. As a child of the late '80s, he saw war outside his front door for much of two decades.I had the privilege of a selfish teenage rebellion in Montreal. I was a voyeur into the war, watching the news on our television.

In the process, we became detached from each other's realities.

We spent some time together in the United Arab Emirates after my maternal family had the rare opportunity to leave Iraq in 2005, drained by successive wars. The decades of bombings had taken their toll, far too often carrying bad news to those in the diaspora, sending ripples back through the hearts of all Iraqis.

Those same bombs did something to my cousin. One night we sat down and watched a movie together, something I had never done with him before. As a car exploded on the screen, his immediate reflex was to cover his ears and close his eyes. He was transported back home, and I was lost. The contrast in our perspectives on life riddled me with guilt. Some of us take so much for granted.

I switched the TV off. In the Mashtal area of Baghdad, a local women's non-governmental organization is offering an awareness seminar for widows. My sister-in-law returned from Baghdad last week with pictures from the seminar.

Most of the women lost their husbands in violence in 2007 and 2008. What they are left with is a fragmented family structure compounded by the damage from decades of sanctions and mass exodus, lack of infrastructure, broken education systems and bouts of political corruption.

I couldn't help but think about the future of the forgotten children of Iraq.

That is what war is to me. War is the leftover pain in our hearts and souls. It is being detached from home and trying to reach safety. As Iraqis ran home from the violence and explosions in neighbourhoods such as Karada last week, they couldn't cover their ears and eyes. There is no remote control for Baghdad.

Nothing good came of this war. There is no victory in any violence. With staggering body counts surfacing, and a possible link to rising cancer and birth-defect rates, where do we start looking for justice? Where do we stand as an international body of people, seeking a new, positive outlook on our future?

Where do Iraqis go next? Iraq has been robbed of its chance at a "spring," and its neighbours are losing balance. I hope that as we celebrate Christmas with our children, we will remember the people of Iraq in our prayers. The children of Baghdad ask: "When will the war really be over?"

Peace to the East. Worldwide.

By Yassin Alsalman.This commentary was first published at cnn.com.

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