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Brooklyn, New York (VBS.TV) -- Several events converged recently that conspired to take me back to the summer of 2006, the summer I snuck into Iraq. The first event was the Iraqi elections. The second was the Oscars. The third was a concert at a little bar tucked into a hip corner of the hippest neighborhood in the world -- Williamsburg, Brooklyn. These events all brought me a little closer to that time, a little closer to recalling the way things were back then. And I realized how much I had forgotten.
The summer/ fall of 2006 had a name -- at least it did in Iraq. It was called the Battle for Baghdad.
It was one of the most bloody periods of the war. The moment just before the Surge where hundreds of people -- hundreds of Iraqis -- were dying every day. I say we snuck into the country because we did.
We had been trying to obtain permission to get into the country legally, but it was proving very difficult. We heard through a friend that you could fly into Erbil through Germany. So we did. Without any papers we bought one-way tickets in cash from Erbil to Baghdad.
To me it was a really bad sign: who was in charge of the (expletive) show down there? There was a real feeling of desperation in the air when my friend Suroosh and I landed at the Baghdad International Airport. Someone in Iraq even told us that there was a rumor floating around that the U.S. forces were seriously considering building a moat around the city.
Once inside, we aligned to our mission: to find and interview the only heavy metal band in the country, Acrassicauda.
It wasn't easy, but we found the guys -- Faisal and Firas -- and spent a week interviewing them in locations that would keep them safe from accusations of collaboration with the enemy.
We met two of the nicest, warmest, funniest dudes, and through them our perspective on this war, and all war, was fundamentally changed. For the first time, I saw the war through the eyes of the oppressed, and saw it for what it was: (expletive) stupid. It was a stupid, stupid war. And the old men that conducted it, on both sides, were essentially the same ugly evil idiots; the same ideologues that championed their own particular visions of a new world order under the banner of their chosen gods -- money, freedom, oil, Allah -- take your pick.
The recent elections saw a flare in the random violence that characterized the hottest periods of the war and reminded me that the desire to kill is still very much alive in Iraq. That the cost of life is still very low.
The recent Oscars proved to me how myopic we still are about that war, about our role in it.
(Kathryn) Bigelow's champions film of champions ("The Hurt Locker") shows the Americans as the heroes, addicted to comradeship and the thrill of battle, and the Iraqis as the faceless aggressors resorting to cheap tactics and foul play. A rather disgusting narrative point of view, especially unnerving when you consider how determined Bigelow et screaming actors al were to create an apolitical discursive cocoon around their film. It's as though they were being willfully, culturally stupid, which is strange from a director that is considered, buy most accounts, to be an intelligent filmmaker.
Last night, I made my way to a little event at a little bar in Brooklyn. Almost four years since my trip to Iraq, and those awesome dudes -- Faisal, Firas, Marwan and Tony -- now live in New York.
They made it out of Iraq, out of exile in Syria, out of the limbo of their refugee existences in Turkey, and they made it to the stage. Last night Acrassicauda rocked out. They are alive and well, and growing their hair long in peace.
As they played I couldn't help thinking that behind these four guys stands an entire generation of young Iraqis who had their lives torn apart for a truly stupid war that was built on lies and sustained by our inability to empathize. The first decade of the century was a shame. I just hope we learn something from it.