Take a moment, and gaze at the face of someone you love, someone who in some measure is the flame that lights the candle of your days. Imagine that, one day, this person walked out the doorâ€”perhaps to go to work or attend school or run an errandâ€”and did not return at the appointed time. Imagine the minutes growing into hours growing into days without hearing any word of where this loved one might be or what might have happened to them, without knowing whether they were alive or dead, without once ceasing to agonize over their absence. Imagine frantically searching for answers across a wartorn landscape and finding nothing but blank stares and shrugs. Imagine the desperation and despairâ€”knowing all along that this is not a dream, this is not a movie. This is your life, now. This is Iraq.
From the New York Times:
BAGHDAD, March 18 â€” He comes to her in dreams, dressed in the blue police uniform he wore the day he disappeared.
â€œIâ€™m alive,â€? he tells Intisar Rashid, his wife and the mother of their five children. â€œIâ€™m alive.â€?
And so she restlessly keeps searching. Ever since the Thursday two months ago when her husband failed to come home, Ms. Rashid has tried to find the man she loves.
In the Green Zone last week, where she waited to scour a database of Iraqis detained by American troops, she said she had already visited the Baghdad morgue a dozen times, every hospital in the city and a handful of Iraqi government ministries.
â€œI feel like Iâ€™m going to collapse,â€? she said, carrying her husbandâ€™s police identification card in one hand and a crumpled tissue in the other. â€œItâ€™s taken over my days, my nights.â€?
The past year of dizzying violence here has produced thousands of Iraqis like Ms. Rashid â€” sad-eyed seekers caught in an endless loop of inquiry and disappointment. Burdened by grief without end or answers, they face a set of horrors as varied and fractured as Iraq itself.
Has my son or husband or father been killed by a death squad, his body hidden? Or has he been arrested? Is he in a legitimate prison with his name unregistered, or trapped in a secret basement jail with masked torturers?
Most importantly: How can he be found?
Under Saddam Hussein, the disappeared were not discussed. Asking for information about people believed to be detained or killed by the regime only brought more danger to the family. But since the war, and particularly following the sharp rise in sectarian fighting over the past year, searching has become an obsession.
Nearly 3,000 Iraqis visited the American-run National Iraqi Assistance Center in the Green Zone last month to look for missing relatives, roughly triple the monthly traffic of last spring, and an increase of 50 percent since December, according to military figures. [full text]