From the Mouths of Babes

An Iraqi Teen and American Soldiers Recount Their Wartime Experiences

During the Christmas holidays, some of us might be lucky enough to spend time with loved ones, hunkered down in the embrace of sweet indolence. But for some, the holidays will be defined by sand, grit, grime, fear, and extreme vigilance. These are members of the armed forces, pursuing a military mission that every day seems increasingly doomed to failure.

One school of thought holds the Iraq War was launched by starry-eyed idealists hoping to utilize the domino theory by spreading democracy one nation at a time throughout the Middle East. Another group would have you believe it’s all about power, oil, and cementing the United States as the world’s only superpower. Regardless, the war has not gone as anyone in Washington, D.C., had hoped. Nearly 3,000 American servicemembers have been killed there, and far more have been seriously wounded; also, the American public has been saddled with a debt that some economists predict will eventually reach $3 trillion.

Estimates for Iraqi casualties prove far more slippery, ranging from 56,000 to untold hundreds of thousands. Although Iraqis did go to the polls to elect the leaders of their newly formed government, it remains increasingly doubtful whether that government is capable of holding the warring factions at bay.

Attempting to hold all this together are American servicemembers and most are doing their best to make a bad situation better. In this issue, dedicated to our fragile but enduring hope for Peace on Earth, we have reprinted snippets from soldiers’ letters and emails telling of their experiences in Iraq, thanking people at home for their support and love, and confiding they are proud to be serving and hopeful they’re making a positive contribution in Iraq.

Caught in the crossfire are the Iraqi people. We’ve printed excerpts from an Iraqi teen’s diary, which tell of her struggles to stay alive, her faith in America’s involvement in her country, and her hope for future happiness.  — The Independent Staff

Diary of War

In their book Stolen Voices: Young People’s War Diaries, Zlata Filipovic (author of 1993’s Zlata’s Diary) and award-winning writer Melanie Challenger have collected journal entries from 14 individuals age 12-19, each telling of their wartime experiences — from the Great War to present-day conflicts. The last account in the book is by Iraqi teen Hoda Thamir Jehad, whose entries begin as U.S. missiles rained down on Baghdad.


Hoda Thamir Jehad is the youngest member of a moderate and cultured family of lawyers, journalists, and teachers. Born on October 11, 1985, in Nasiriyah, a town in the south of Iraq, she was largely raised by her older brothers and sisters after the tragic death of her father in a car accident when she was just two years old. … [Her] diary recounts the unfolding of the war in Iraq with the arrival of U.S. and British forces to remove the dictator Saddam Hussein from power. … American missiles hit targets in Baghdad in the early hours of March 20, 2003, signaling the onset of a campaign to remove the Iraqi leader. U.S. and British ground forces entered the country from the south … by April 9, U.S. forces had advanced into central Baghdad, and Saddam Hussein’s grip on power had been markedly reduced. The regime collapsed in April 2003, three weeks into the U.S.-led campaign.

March 20, 2003

[T]oday is the first day of war: Today is Thursday, March 20, a difficult day for everyone. … I want to mention that yesterday was a very beautiful and ordinary day, when stars sparkled in the black sky. But this morning was not an ordinary day, because the twittering of the birds was mixed with the sound of gunfire.

March 21, 2003

[I] feel intensely sad that we have lost peace completely in our country of Iraq. We have also lost the lovely life of studying, and communicating with friends, or the daily experience of discussing interesting and beautiful things with pupils and teachers. All this I miss today. I am distraught by the knowledge that when I wake in the morning, there will be nothing but the roaring of guns and enemy planes.

March 23, 2003

Today the bombardment was unceasing and very violent, but it was worse in Baghdad and the other governing areas. … Everyone is at home and no one goes out to work or to schools, universities, or anywhere in Nasiriyah except for the hospital, which constantly receives the dead and the wounded, where benevolent doctors are sacrificing themselves, giving their souls for the innocent.

March 24, 2003

War raged even more today, when the Marine forces entered our modest residential areas and everywhere, while clashes are on the increase from one day to the other. I wonder to myself if things will ever return to the simple life and the poverty I was content with, and to the days of beautiful youth that are nothing but memory now.

March 25, 2003

[T]oday I remained awake until the early morning; I cannot tell night from day. We are all holed up now in one room, under one roof. … Now bombing has increased massively, and we do not know what is happening. There are very violent attacks and heavy bombing, and American armored vehicles are roaming the streets of Nasiriyah. What a state of anxiety I am in!

March 26, 2003

[Last] night was much worse than the night before. Clashes erupted … around 2 or 3 at night … and lasted until midday. … Meanwhile, we were in the same room, not knowing what was happening outside. … [Later] we discovered the voice we had heard at … dawn was the voice of a woman from the neighborhood who was screaming after she was hit by the shooting of the American [snipers]. … The Americans at that time had no mercy because they imagined she was one of the Fidayeen who have started to disguise themselves, wearing black or women’s clothes, and loitering in the streets and alleys.

April 1, 2003

Today is the first day of the new month, but there is no hope and no calmness, as bullets still continue to fly. … Sadness continues throughout these days because of what has happened in Iraq. … [O]ur joy in having got rid of an ugly dictatorial president has limits. … We can only wait for the sunrise of the near future.

April 2, 2003

The sun is shining, and it is war; the windows of hope are still open … [but] I cannot lie and say it is a beautiful day, because after today Iraq does not know joy or happiness, nor do the Iraqis, whose hearts have been frozen by the period in which they lived with the dirty president for 37 years. And as if that is not enough, it is followed by the storm of the Americans, and we do not know what awaits us in the future.

April 4, 2003

[W]e are sitting around the radio to hear the news, listening very attentively to the speech of the American president. We were happy with what he said, but we are more proud of them when we hear them say they have come to Iraq as liberators, not occupiers.

April 7, 2003

They said schools will reopen. … I thought I would die or faint from joy. … [T]here is a glimmer of hope that life will go back to what it used to be in the past, perhaps even better.

April 9, 2003

This is the greatest day in the life of Iraqis. … It is the day the Iraqi capital [Baghdad] fell. Today the empire of Saddam is finished. When this news was announced, I saw smiles on the faces of my family and neighbors I have never seen before; smiles that express the happiness and joy that has been frozen for years, frozen by the former regime.

January 10, 2004

Every time we think Iraq has started to regain calmness and is heading toward development, new affairs arise that obstruct the working process. … Each day a new group emerges; yesterday it was the Mahdi Army, today we have Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi and the Al-Qaeda organization. … Every day, millions of people of different ages die pointlessly and in the worst and ugliest circumstances of murder and kidnapping and robbery.

January 20, 2004

The world seems dark and bleak for me. … It has been [caused by] the difficulties I live through … the years in which Saddam destroyed all our dreams and sowed hatred inside us instead of love. … But we must believe in the people who entered our country to rid us of a tyrant and who say they want to bring happiness to our hearts; we should put our hands in their hands and stand together until the end of the road.

Reprinted by arrangement with Penguin Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from Stolen Voices by Zlata Filipovic and Melanie Challenger. Copyright © 2006 by Zlata Filipovic and Melanie Challenger.

4•1•1 Zlata Filipovic and Melanie Challenger will read from Stolen Voices on Wednesday, January 24 at 7 p.m. Skirball Cultural Center and Museum, 2701 North Sepulveda Boulevard, Los Angeles. Admission is $8. Call (310) 440-4500 or email

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