INTERVIEW: The night Baghdad fell

Dina Ezzat , Saturday 15 Apr 2023

To mark the 20-year anniversary of the US occupation of Baghdad on 9 April, 2003, Ahram Online Spoke to the Paris-based Iraqi Journalist turned literary author Inaam Kachach.

Inaam Kachachi
Inaam Kachachi


Her works that captured images of the Iraqi diaspora, including their agony and yearning for years prior to the acute pain of dictatorship and invasion. 

In 2005, only two years after the US-led invasion of Iraq, she issued her first literary volume Sawaki Al-Koloub (The Heart Wheels) where she offered a carefully knitted together image of the Iraqi-diaspora that is diverse and tormented.

In subsequent 18 years, Kachachi, now a celebrated Iraqi novelist, put out three other novels: Al-Hafida Al-Amerikiya (The American Granddaughter), Tashari (Dispersed) and Al-Nabiza (The Outcast).

In 2022, Kachachi issued a selection of stories in Egypt through the Al-Dar Al-Masriyah Al-Lebenaniyah publishing house, Fi Belad Al-Takh Takh (In the Lands of Shoot-Outs). The selection continued to bring the past to the present and vice versa to draw a sequel of pictures that offer the reader close-ups on the deep sorrow that Iraqis learned to carry on whether they stay in a country that only resembles the country they know and love or when they just have to leave.

Ahram Online: The Heart Wheels carries an intense narrative of the Iraqi tragedy that started some decades before the US invasion and evolved, following the invasion, into a saga of diaspora and agony. Was the war on Iraq in 2003 the thing that got you to start writing fiction?

Inaam Kachachi: Yes, and this is not unusual. It is typical that wars prompt significant literary production. Personally, I was a fulfilled journalist. Then the war came and we started seeing some surreal accounts; things cannot be portrayed or even explained in news stories or features.

AO: The characters that we get to meet through your novels and stories, whether they are in Iraq or in the diaspora, are loaded with a lot of yearning for an Iraq that once was but is no more. Whatever really happened to this Iraq of culture, art, diversity and coexistence, which you reflect on in your literature? How could such a country find its way towards an abyss? Was it the dictatorship or the invasion? Do you, as a journalist, believe that the dictatorship led to the invasion?

Kachachi: The wars, the economic sanctions, the one-party rule and the collapse of the value of the national currency all took the country from one place to another. The set of values to which Iraqis have subscribed to, for generations, was heavily shaken [in the process] and there we were with new generations that simply subscribed to very different sets of values. And this is what I try to do with my novels and stories; I try to provide a close up on these changes. I am really occupied with this decay of the fabric of a history of coexistence that Iraqis, with their different sects and creeds, once had.

I think that with the knowledge and the insights we have, we have a mission to keep ringing alarm bells on the dragons of sectarianism that hit Iraq and are still inflicting harm all across our country. Does this make a difference really? Does anyone hear what we are saying or care for what we are saying? I really do not have an answer to this question but I know that I am committed to keep on warning against sectarianism even if my words get very little echo.

And here I have to say that there are many types of dictatorships in our region. However, for the peoples of this region, foreign invasion is the most offensive, irrespective of its reasons or claims.

AO: The American Granddaughter carries a dream of a homecoming while Dispersed carries the fear of an unending diaspora. Today, when you, as a journalist, follow the news coming from Iraq and follow the state of affairs of Iraqis who are living all across the globe, do you feel that it is realistic to keep on dreaming of a homecoming? Do you think this homecoming dream has become secluded within older generations, including the generation of [those born in the 1950s] like yourself – given that the younger generations may not have this affinity to an Iraq they never really knew?

Kachachi: I am not even sure that for my generation the hope of a homecoming is still realistically there. However, a novelist cannot be constrained to the limitations of reality; a novelist has to have a hole in the wall to see the light of the day; a novelist needs to be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel somehow, because this is the way for the novelist to keep on writing their narratives.

[Pierre] Soulages is a French painter who did his canvas only in black; however, he used different shades of black to inspire from within these very dark shades a lot of brilliant ideas.

AO: Away from fiction, you have a non-fiction book that came out [in French] under the title of “The Words of Iraqi Women”…Why did you opt for non-fiction with this particular text while the words of Iraqi women in your fiction have said a lot about the Iraqi story?

Kachachi: During the two Gulf wars – Iran and Kuwait – Iraqi novelists were taken to the fronts and their novels were loaded with the lexicon and images of the wars. This they did with their hands tied; they just could not express their rejection of a situation that was imposed on them. They knew that if they did they would instantly be accused of letting their country down. The authorities used this literature as a mobilisation scheme. They promoted this type of literature and rewarded its authors.

It was impossible for the echoes of resistance to come from within the country. The cruelty had no mercy whatsoever. 

However, women found a way to implicitly express their sorrow over the losses they had. They spoke about the loss of loved ones – those who died and those who just had to leave their homes and their country; they spoke about the bitterness of not having enough to provide for houses whose men were gone; they spoke of the agony of having to see husbands coming back subdued after having been prisoners of war and of this haunting phobic fear of a moment at the deep hours of the night when a truck comes to hand over the body bag of a family member who died on the battlefield.

I portrayed all of these deep sentiments both in poetry and prose… their words were to me literature of resistance… I translated selected texts into French.

AO: It was in the late 1970s that you left Iraq to study in France where you stayed since. Have you been back prior or after the invasion? How do you recall the night that Baghdad fell to the US Invasion?

Kachachi: It was a night of horror; I was glued to the TV screen watching the fires of Baghdad as they were put on air on CNN. I was shivering. As a journalist I just could not handle the long distance set up. As soon as the strikes stopped, I had to go back. It was a fearful road trip through neighbouring Jordan.

I arrived at the borders of my country to see the deep holes that the bombs left on the ground. I arrived to be received by the presence of the invading American tanks at the desert borders. It was a country with unguarded borders and no government. Heavy smoke was coming out of all government buildings that were put aflame. The ashes were coming down.

I went home. I entered to find a place pack-full of memories that could still hold the light within. They were there just waiting for me as they got into the house.


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