In the year I spent in the Red Zone of Baghdad, my only preoccupation was doing whatever I could to address the misfortunes of people in agony.
That's what led me to incur risks and tolerate logistical insanities that made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. For example, the Arab countries, which were so determined that I go immediately to Baghdad, withdrew security protection on the eve of my departure.
I was expected to rely on Iraqi security with all of the dangers that that would have entailed. I was sent to Iraq without even the most rudimentary protection. Despite uncounted threats and dangers, it took the Arab League seven months to provide me with an armoured car.
A European colleague initiated a security audit on my behalf, which found my conditions almost suicidal. No international insurance company would cover me. None of those contacted in New York and London by my friend, Ron Bruder, were willing to run the risk of insuring me. The only company that would insure me was in Cairo and it insisted that the policy not cover kidnapping or untimely death.
At least, I had the illusion of being insured.
My house in Baghdad, which served simultaneously as an office and residence, was surrounded by concrete blocks that only rose and multiplied as the security situation deteriorated, until all that I could see were my Peshmerga security sheltering behind the walls. This dwelling became a metaphor of my frustration and despair.
Here's what I remember:
The chopped-off head given as a soccer ball to young boys, while the adults watched, not in horror, but in approval. The head had belonged to a driver from another sect.
The easy smile of our thick-moustachioed baker, who was killed by an armed group that had decided to kill all bakers who refused to close their businesses.
The hysterical joy of my neighbour the night a "Katyusha" rocket fell in the garden separating our houses but did not explode, as he repeated over and over "we have a new life!"
The innocent smile of my guard, Mekdad, a 29-year-old father of six, including one severely disabled, who was killed in an ambush on his way home from protecting me.
The incredulity on the faces of my local staff when I sought vaccine for my adopted dog, Caramel, when they could not find vaccines for their own children.
The eyes of the children in the mornings as they came upon the bodies of neighbours killed in the night.
The grief of a father, who lost two brothers to Saddam Hussein's butchery, and had two daughters raped in front of his eyes by marauding militia.
The brutalization of Iraq's minorities unable to mount militias to defend themselves.
The contradiction of the comparative luxury, in which the inhabitants of the Green Zone lived, and continue to live, with the primitive conditions and misery of those in the Red Zone, more precisely, the rest of Iraq.
The contrast between the enormous suffering I saw daily in Baghdad and the persistent indifference evident in the Arab League meetings in Cairo, meetings that were never interested in my testimony but only in a ballet for the media, a ballet that lacked all purpose, and one that no longer fooled the public. If it were not so sad, it would be funny, that the secretary general's personal envoy to Iraq never set foot in the country in my time there.
The policies of the U.S. government that have made democracy more remote than ever. The democracy established in Iraq has resulted in the appointment of an extremist Shiite bent on revenge as prime minister and an extremist Sunni as speaker of the parliament. And the legislators, many elected, by illicit means, including fatwas, share with ministers a taste for travel to foreign capitals.
The consequences are obviously the worst for ordinary Iraqis. Meanwhile, the centuries-old social mosaic of Iraq has been destroyed. The tragedy of the Iraqi people seems of little consequence to its phantom government and self-serving elites, to its self-interested neighbours and its uncomprehending occupiers. Unfortunately, spilled water cannot be retrieved from desert sands.
Political and religious extremism is stronger than ever in Iraq and the region. Al-Qaida's ideology has become similar to a franchise, whereby groups continue to account for demands without having organizational ties between them.
Recall for instance, in 2003, when the war began, one of the reasons to go ahead with the military buildup in Iraq was the wrongful assumption that al-Qaida cells were operating in Iraq and the alleged dealing between former president Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida officials.
Today, after four years of costly mistakes, the cells have now entrenched themselves in Iraq, giving themselves the luxury to run villages, as was the case in the Diala and Ninevah governorates.
Another obstacle is economic desperation.
The most realistic studies approximate that more than $20 billion in public funds have been misappropriated since 2003. And many of those responsible, who are now accustomed to spending more time abroad than in Iraq, are only familiar with the infamous Green Zone of Iraq.
The zone, where the very high concrete blocks not only physically isolate them from the bruised country, but isolate in return the Iraqi population socially, economically, and politically.
The country's social structure has been rendered nil as one-third of Iraqis are now refugees, half of them being internally displaced. Sectarian violence and ethnic cleansing patterns have permanently marked social interactions. With estimates of more than 500,000 civilian casualties, the outlook is ominous as the situation seems ripe for a full-out genocide. Social chaos of this magnitude scars the core identity of a nation in an indelible fashion, shaping future relations.
The social wound inflicted to the Iraqi nation is hard to comprehend if we only base our analysis on systemic factors. This extent of social despair, I have witnessed firsthand. Nothing in this world can lift the mist of sadness of the excruciating, painful year I spent in Iraq, where every day brought its promise of worse to come.
I couldn't get out of my head a verse from a Jacques Brel CD: "We don't forget, we just adapt. That's all."
There is much that I don't forget.