Being an Iraqi in the United States, I've faced challenges unique to those whose parents have sacrificed it all for their children's future. Growing up in the states, I felt assimilating was the only way I could succeed and repay my parents. After all, they'd given up the life they'd built to become strangers in a foreign country. In recent years, I realized the suppression of my Iraqi culture has made it difficult to recognize the person I had become.

In February, alongside the fearlessly talented Brontë Wittpenn, I traveled to Iraq after immigrating to the states 20 years prior. There, I reunited with family, abolished stereotypes of the Middle East and strengthened the connection to my ancestral roots.

This five-part series gives a voice to immigrants, people who've played a significant role in shaping our land of opportunity. To those of you reading with shared experiences, I hope this story makes you feel less alone.

Proof: The series: In this YouTube video, I talk about my journey back to Iraq and how this project came about:

Comments: 527 • Responses: 64  • Date: 

Togapr33288 karma

What is the biggest misconception people have about Iraq?

Secondly...because i believe food is a connector of people. What is your favorite Iraqi dish and where can the folks of Reddit get it?

TY for this AMA >

mlivesocial367 karma

Hey there! I believe the biggest misconception about the people living in Iraq is that they're violent. Growing up in the states, media portrayed Iraq to be a place of extreme violence and those perpetrating that violence to be the Iraqi people. That's not true. I spent two weeks in Iraq and not once did I feel threatened by someone there. People stared, yes, because we looked different but no one treated Bronte and I badly. In fact, we were always met with the most hospitality and empathy. People offered us food, sweets and tea. We were treated with respect regardless of our accents and appearances. It was a breath of fresh air to feel so welcomed by people. At the end of the day, people in Iraq are like humans everywhere. They wake up, go to work and try to make an honest living so their families can live happily. While I understand Iraq was much more violent during the war it's calmed down significantly. I strongly encourage people to visit if they get the chance. The people in Iraq will welcome you with open arms.

As for the food... My favorite meal to gather around is stuffed grape leaves. My family and I packed a pot of stuffed grape leaves and took it to a park in Baghdad during my trip. Inside the gates of the park, hundreds of families were gathering around their own picnics. We sat under a palm tree, laid out a sheet and sat around the pot of stuffed grape leaves laughing at our own inside jokes. It's a memory I think back on often now. If you want to try stuffed grape leaves, I highly recommend checking out your nearest Middle Eastern restaurant! While you're there, grab some hummus, baba ganoush (smoked eggplant dip), tabouli (parsley salad) and pita to snack on as well.

-Zahra Ahmad

dullawolf132 karma

Not a question, but a little story about Iraq.

I joined the military and started bootcamp toward the ends of August 2001. queue 9/11 3 weeks later and the war on terror. I was part of Air Defense and maintained the Patriot Missile launch stations. Landed in Kuwait on February and crossed into Iraq the day the war started (March 20th, 2003). Before going to Iraq, I dont believe I have ever met an Iraqi before. So as a unit, we all had this devaluation of what the people of Iraq were like. As a unit, we had racist connotations towards Iraqis.

It wasn't till some day in March/April we were leaving one site to head to another and our convoy had an accident among ourselves. It was outside of a small town, i cannot remember it's name. While we were waiting, a lot of townsfolk were walking past us. They were on their way to work in the fields. As a result, we had to get out of our vehicles and be on guard.

As we were getting ready to leave, I see this Iraqi man smoking a cigarette. I only had two cigarettes left. He must have saw the desperation in my eyes as I craved for a cigarette not wanting to smoke my last ones quite yet. He comes up to my truck and spoke very well English, "Would you like a cigarette?"

me, "yes, please"

him, "are you American or Britain?'

me, "American" as I point to my American Flag patch on my arm.

him, "Thanks for being over here" lights my cigarette and walks away.

That moment drastically changed the way I viewed the people of Iraq. That moment also drastically changed the way I viewed and sympathized for everyone else around the world not from the United States.

mlivesocial45 karma

Thank you for sharing this wonderful, humanizing short. Cheers! -Zahra Ahmad

justscottaustin88 karma

Ask me anything

Got clean water yet?

mlivesocial171 karma

In Iraq? No, we didn't drink out of the tap there. Somone delivers 5-gallon jugs to homes every week. In Flint? Yes, the state says the water is testing above the federal limits for lead. But some residents, like myself and roommates, don't drink out of the tap because of the distrust.

-Zahra Ahmad

scribby55521 karma

Came here to ask this legitimate question! Do you have any recent reports on your local water problem that we can read? Flint got the shaft bad!

justscottaustin44 karma

Flint and Michigan politicians shafted the people badly, you mean.

Much to Reddit's eternal dismay, this was never a federal government issue.

mlivesocial26 karma

Hi @justscottaustin and @scribby555 - Here's a link to all of our continuing in depth Flint water coverage:

mshaw0949 karma

Back in 2010, I was deployed to Iraq with the US Army. I lived in a small combat outpost in northern Baghdad for one year. It was such an eye-opening experience - one that I will never forget. Before leaving for my deployment, the military and the media made me think so little of Iraqi people. I assumed that everyone there hated us and were awful people. During my time there, I lived with many Iraqi locals and it was such a life-changing experience. I lived with truly wonderful people. People that I still talk to presently. I could write you a novel on that year of my life. I wish that more American's could see and experience what I did.

What do most Iraqis think about the US military killing Sadam Hussein?

How do they view Muqtada Al-Sadr?

Do Iraqi citizens have any negative feelings towards those that have migrated to the US?

mlivesocial51 karma

Speaking from my experience talking to Iraqis, a majority believe Saddam was evil and deserved his demise others don't. It depends on how you look at it. My father was against Saddam and revolted against his regime as a young man. When Saddam was captured and killed, my father made us sit down and watch it. He thought it important for us to witness a man who forced him to flee his family, his home. Others saw Saddam as strong enough to keep the country's borders secured. My aunt says the country was cleaner and the borders were secured but the people in Iraq were starving and suffering from senseless wars. It depends on who you ask. Walking through Saddam's castle, he seemed mostly arrogant to me. -Zahra Ahmad

mshaw0910 karma

Thank you so much for your responses to my questions. I haven't had a chance to read your story, but I'm looking forward to reading it when I have some time tonight. I'm really interested in your story. I did watch your video on YouTube. You briefly mention something that I found interesting while I was there, which is the distribution of wealth. I would regularly see hard working people getting around town using carts pulled by donkeys, while rich people speed passed them in very expensive BMW's and Mercedes. It seemed liked people had very little money or an absurd amount of wealth. Could have just been the neighborhood I lived in, but I have a feeling that it was probably like that all over Iraq. I lived right next to Uday Hussein's palace in Adhamiyah. That place was HUGE and he only used it as a vacation home, from what I was told. That guy was CRAZY!

So badly I wanted to explore the city on my own. No uniform. No weapons. I just wanted to wander the streets. I wanted to explore all the shops. I wanted to eat local food. I wish I could have experienced so much more. I would love to go back and visit.

One thing that I didn't mention earlier is that once I returned from Iraq, I got out of the military. My time in Iraq completely changed my mentality towards the US military and the politicians that decide what the military does.

I hope that the people of Iraq and those that have migrated elsewhere can live in peace and happiness. I wish you and your family all the best.

mlivesocial2 karma

Absolutely. I don't blame what happened in Iraq on the United States' people. I do blame the handful of people in power who made the decisions regarding Iraq, however.

mlivesocial30 karma

No, I don't believe they do. From speaking with my own family members, I believe they do wish that those who have left have not forgotten about those who've stayed. It's important for American-immigrants to understand where they're from so they can feel connected to the pockets of their families that have stayed. In my series, I open up about my father's recent stage four mesothelioma diagnosis. We found out about it months after I'd returned from Iraq. My uncle, Yousef who I met in Iraq, was diagnosed with the same disease around the same time my father was. Regardless of whether I was in America, or my cousins in Iraq, we're dealing with the same adversity life's handed us. Spending time in Iraq getting to know my family has reestablished a sense of responsibility in me. While I alone cannot move Iraq forward, I can continually support and empower my family living there to do so in their own lives. -Zahra Ahmad

Christopherlus49 karma

Have the ruins changed at all in 20 years?

mlivesocial80 karma

Hello, Zahra here! I can only speak from my experience of exploring Babylon with my family. The gentleman that was giving us a tour throughout the ancient city's museum mentioned many of its artifacts have been looted by trespassers. I was surprised by the lack of people at the ruins themselves. There were only a handful of families walking through the mazes of Babylon. It was far more populated in Saddam Hussein's castle, which he built to oversee the ancient city. If you have any questions about his castle, please feel free to ask.

houston_oilers22 karma

If you have any questions about his castle, please feel free to ask.

Send us down the Google rabbit hole. What are some good starter searches on Saddam Hussein's castle for us curious types?

Swaquile27 karma

Well for one, George Bluth may have committed some light treason to build it

mlivesocial3 karma

Kudos on the Arrested Development reference. -Zahra Ahmad

mlivesocial2 karma

Hello! Here are the coordinates:

Lat: 32.54331940626981, Long: 44.41717375069857

and a map from our MLive data reporter Scott Levin:

SEMIrunner32 karma

What surprised you the most about your trip? And what type of reaction have you gotten so far from your series?

mlivesocial70 karma

Expansion of thought through experience. Media has advanced tremendously in the last two decades. With that advancement, we're significantly more exposed to other parts of the world. Preconvienced and inexperienced beliefs we may have about other parts of the world fogs up the lens through which we view people living in those parts of the world. Before traveling to Iraq, the country scared me. That fear was unjustified in more ways than not but very real nonetheless. By speaking, interacting and living among the people in Iraq, I reconnected to the country emotionally. That spurred thoughts and feelings I wouldn't otherwise have about the people in Iraq. It made me more empathic to other humans.

The reactions I've gotten to my story so far are mostly positive. There will always be people who speak out of ignorance rather than experience, but to me, those opinions are not of much value. Most readers have shown me a lot of gratitude for sharing my first-hand experience. The other day, I was covering a zoning meeting when a planning commissioner approached me. She said she recognized me from the series and thanked me for being vulnerable. She started to cry and before I knew it, I was hugging a stranger in a parking lot. Normally, I would never be so open to a stranger. But she didn't feel like a stranger, she knew me on a deeper level through my story. I'm thankful for this experience, it's restored some hope in me. -Zahra Ahmad

allofourghosts19 karma

I have what I feel is a more simple, and therefore possibly dumb question:

I work in broadcast news and am around many people who say Iraq often, but many I feel aren't saying it correctly. I was in grade school during the early 2000s, but I remember everyone would say Iraq as "eye-RACK". In today's world I hear more and more people saying it as "EE-rok". Only a handful of anchors I know will say it with the "ee". It makes me cringe and feel as if they're ignorant if they say it with the "eye" sound.

So I'm wondering how you specifically would pronounce it, and if it gets to you that people may pronounce it wrong?

mlivesocial29 karma

I pronounce it ee-rok with a Baghdad-Iraqi accent. The "r" should be slightly rolled. I don't pronounce it as eye-rack. Talk to more Iraqis in person, you'll learn to pronounce it better that way :) -Zahra Ahmad

mantis_bog16 karma

How's the falafel over there?

mlivesocial45 karma

We took a trip to Mount Korek in Iraqi-Kurdistan and I ate my weight in falafel sandwiches. Magnificent. -Zahra Ahmad

unBelHomme3 karma

How about masgouf? I never got to try the real deal in Iraq, but there's an excellent place in Amman run by Iraqi refugees where I was lucky to be introduced. The carp didn't come from the Euphrates though, so I don't think it counted. Delicious though, with that fresh puffy bread. Yum.

mlivesocial3 karma

I had masgouf my last night in Iraq, it was absolutely amazing! I ate so much fish, and the seasoning was unbelievable. I haven't had fish that delicious since. Thank you for reminding me, now I'm craving it! Cheers! -Zahra Ahmad

groggboy15 karma

Are Christian and other non Muslims still fleeing Iraq ?

mlivesocial38 karma

During the first week of my trip, I lived in Ankawa, a primarily Christian Kurdish city in northern Iraq. My father, a Muslim, previously lived in Ankawa and has many friends there. People, regardless of religion, are fleeing Iraq. People, regardless of religion, are staying in Iraq. I can't speak numerically on how many people from specific sectors of religion are staying or fleeing Iraq. I'm sure they're all just trying to do what's best for themselves or their families. -Zahra Ahmad

BouncingDeadCats13 karma

What do you think of the mess that the US has made of Iraq?

How do Iraqis feel in general about the regime change and the consequences?

mlivesocial49 karma

My dad was someone who took the United States for its word and began overturning Saddam's regime in hopes of restoring democracy in Iraq. For people in Iraq, like my dad, I think they feel like the United States turned its back on them. The Iraq War halted Iraq's progression, and the people are finally getting their country back. But the war has left the country's borders insecure and its people vulnerable. To sum things up, I'm disappointed in the United States over its relationship with the Iraqi people. The American media did the Iraqi people a grave injustice by portraying them as villains in a senseless, drawn-out war. So whose responsibility is it to change the narrative around Iraq? It's our own if we're willing to step outside our comfort zones and experience something other than our own culture. -Zahra Ahmad

ford12acing2 karma

Does that mean you think we should send troops to iraq to secure borders etc? Wouldn't that be met with hostility?

mlivesocial16 karma

I spent a lot of time talking to humanitarians stationed in Iraq about similar topics. I'll ask some of them to jump on this Reddit and see if they'll provide insight. I don't know if sending more troops would hinder or help. I would rather see the people of Iraq empowered enough to secure their own borders. -Zahra Ahmad

L3ftBra1nz11 karma

Why did you choose to live in flint of all cities...? Is that really an upgrade over life in the east? Grand Rapids resident here.

mlivesocial56 karma

I chose to live in Flint because its people deserve quality journalism. The city is recovering from a multifaceted water crisis. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been funneled into Flint for its comeback from the water crisis. People in Flint deserve journalists, like The Flint Journal's staff, who will hold government accountable in spending that funding appropriately while shining a light on the city's day-to-day news. I'm proud of providing residents with accurate information during this time. I've had the option to leave Flint more than once, but the people are what keep me here. I can't say how long I'll stay, but I'll be reporting to the best of my ability until that time comes. Cheers -Zahra Ahmad

Devan82611 karma

Did you get a chance to meet any Chaldeans still living in Iraq, how are the conditions over there for them?

mlivesocial16 karma

I didn't get a chance to meet any Chaldeans in Iraq, or at least none that were outright with their beliefs. I did stay in a primarily Christian city in Iraq-Kurdistan during my first week in the country, however. It was an awesome experience! -Zahra Ahmad

bertiebees8 karma

How have things been since we shocked and awed the place?

mlivesocial34 karma

Iraq and its people are currently recovering and rebuilding from decades of war. Their economy is slow to pick its momentum back up. I was in awe at how inspiring the people of Iraq are. Their resilience is unmatched and is proof of just how much pain, trauma humans can withstand. Throughout it all, young people are still seeking an education. They're hopeful, something that's been carrying its younger generation on. There is still so much to heal from, however. With so many hands grabbing at power in Iraq right now, I just hope honest people are going to lead the country's comeback. -Zahra Ahmad

Decoyx77 karma

Hi! I grew up in a Flint suburb and spent a lot of time in the city. It's been my home for 23 years until I moved to Germany. I often meet people here who think America is some grandeos place of gold, but my experience in Flint has proven otherwise. However I'm aware that it's not the same as a war torn country like Iraq is. A lot of my new friends here are refugees and migrants from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.

Is poverty and urban blight in Flint any similar to what exists in Iraq? Is there a similar problem with random violence and drug crime? Whats better about Iraq than Flint? What's worse? Thanks for reading. I sure hope I wasn't too late! It's a joy to see people from my hometown hosting AMAs :)

mlivesocial7 karma

Hey! This is a great question. There were many similarities. For instance, the lack of investment in public infrastructure. This is a problem for many cities throughout the U.S. and Iraq. Iraq has more intense infrastructure issues than Flint, but the root cause remains the same. Lack of adequate funding towards aging infrastructure. Another note, the pollution is not as bad in Flint but still comparable to Iraq. I pondered this a lot and concluded people in cities with slow economies don't understand the impact of pollution. People in Iraq have been victims of wars for a long time, people in Flint have been victims of gun violence for a long time, neither have been afforded the time to think about their environments. I don't want to say one's better than the other, they're both differently wonderful in their own ways. Both places also have their own faults. Traveling has granted me the opportunity to have these thoughts. Hope others are inspired to do the same. -Zahra Ahmad

LionVenom106 karma

Iraqi here, living currently in Europe.

How close did you feel to the people? Did you feel any connection with the culture at all? Having been raised in Jordan since the age of 4 the first time I visited Iraq since fleeing I felt like a foreigner, the culture and people around me were different than how I remember when I was a toddler, I felt that it wasn’t my home. Can you relate?

mlivesocial2 karma

Oh, I stuck out like a sore thumb! People asked me where I was from all the time and I'd say, "well I was born here but I was raised elsewhere." The way I dressed and my mannerisms were foreign to the country. The culture, however, felt home-like. Iraqis are very family-oriented and it was nice to have all the members gathered together. I felt comfortable because I spent the majority of my time with extended family who whole-heartily accepted me. I don't think I could uproot my life from the states and live in Iraq forever, it's much too foreign. But, I wouldn't mind spending months to a year there to fully understand what the people there deal with on a day-to-day basis. I'd also love to perfect my Arabic. I'm sorry to hear you didn't feel like it was your home, I'm sure it was a culture shock. If you'd like to tell me more about your trip, don't hesitate in emailing me. Cheers! -Zahra Ahmad

cmdaniels19866 karma

How are gays treated in Iraq?

mlivesocial6 karma

I didn't meet any people who are gay in Iraq, unfortunately. I think a lot of people in Iraq are still uncomfortable with human sexuality. That's something I've noticed just growing up in the culture. It would be nice to hear from people who are gay and grew up in Middle Eastern households. -Zahra Ahmad

Sage19705 karma

As an Iraqi immigrant myself, I salute you for your bravery. I'll be honest and say I don't understand "ancestral roots" What and why should that mean anything to me? I felt like a stranger there more than I feel here. I'm not bashing any culture. Just saying they're all really very silly. Some a tiny bit more than others.

mlivesocial3 karma

Hey there! By traveling to Iraq, I developed a real respect for my lineage and ancestors. My ancestors can be traced back to the earliest civilizations and that's so badass. So many people survived war after war after war for me to be here. Going back was my way of showing my parents, grandparents and great grandparents gratitude and respect. Eventually, if things get less hostile in the states, I'd like to have children of my own and pass on parts of the Iraqi culture I really respect. They're parts that have shaped me to be a better, more empathetic person. When staying in Iraq, I focused less on what I thought was silly or unreasonable and more about a person's history and what's shaped them to think the way they do. By doing that, I connected with people on a much deeper level. People are people, we've all been through shit that's shaped us to be the way they are. Taking the time to conversate with people, step out of my comfort zone, has left me unforgettable memories. Cheers!-Zahra Ahmad

thrownoutta4 karma

Salam! I taught in east Dearborn for about 7 years and many of my students came from Al-najaf and Baghdad. Question for you: how safe is northern Iraq, (for me, anything north of Baghdad and Tikrit I’ve considered ‘northern’). I always hear mixed reactions about it.

Saddam Hussein was awarded the key to the city of Detroit in 1980 for paying the debt of a Chaldean church. Is there a generational disparity of support/disdain for him? I’d like to think it’s all disdain, but I’ve spoken with some Iraqis and they agree that there were some positives that came out of his regime.

kom0do3 karma

Not OP, but I have family that has traveled back home and I can tell you that, in general, Northern Iraq is fairly safe, and Kurdistan region especially. You would be surprised to see how people are dressing, and the malls are very Westernized. During old regimes, haircuts, tattoos, and other ways of expressing yourself were suppressed, but now it's more open. Abuse of authoritative power, however, is still a potential issue though (I guess you can say that for many countries). Checkpoints are set up all over the country, so traveling North or South, you are for sure to encounter them. Persecution still exists, but rotten apples exist everywhere.

The reason that many support Saddam is that he controlled chaos, even though it was out of fear. A lot of good came from his ruling too, such as the highways he built, mandatory education, and economic flow. In general, some people like the way life was when he was around because there was a sense of stability as compared to life after Saddam, "freedom" if you will. But let's be honest, it isn't real freedom if you always have to make sure you don't accidentally offend the high and mighty and his family.

mlivesocial2 karma

Thanks for the thoughtful response and contributing to this conversation. " In general, some people like the way life was when he was around because there was a sense of stability as compared to life after Saddam, 'freedom' if you will. But let's be honest, it isn't real freedom if you always have to make sure you don't accidentally offend the high and mighty and his family. " This is really well put! It's such a hard stance to take because there are valid points to each side. Being raised by a man, Baba, who revolted against Saddam, I have my own personal opinions of the former dictator. Overall though, he just seemed like a power-hungry and arrogant leader that was in over his head. Unfortunately, the people of Iraq suffered. I always wonder what if someone level-headed and empathic was in his place at the time. But what's been done is history and we can only learn from it. Thanks again for sharing. Cheers! -Zahra Ahmad.

Glays4 karma

Hi Zahra,

I’m from Iraq too. I just want to point out that according to a 2016 survey, 93% of young Iraqis viewed America as the enemy. Resentment towards America (government and military and in some cases even people) is very real and very common. Why do you not mention how the American literally destroyed our country for imperialistic reasons, despite Iraq not having WMDs/links to Al-Qaeda? What about the sanctions from 1990-2003 that killed 500,000 children? I could go on and on about their crimes.

You paint a rosy picture of how we’re welcoming, and this is true, we are welcoming. There was even a study that said that Iraqis are the most generous people in the world. But we are not welcoming to Americans who killed over a million innocent people. I hope the soldiers who are commenting here pretending they’re “friends” of the Iraqi people read this and realize they are the enemy and would get kidnapped and/or killed depending on who gets their hands on them if they made the mistake of coming here.

It seems that you have been brainwashed by the American media and forgot who the true villain and instigator is.

mlivesocial2 karma

Hey there, I never stated that I didn't believe the United States wronged the Iraqi people. In fact, I believe I stated the United States turned its back on the Iraqi people and that the media did the people a grave injustice. I also don't paint a rosy picture, I speak from experience. I've stated several times Iraq is slowly recovering. But personally, I don't believe a divisive attitude and polarizing beliefs are what progress nations forward. I don't condone the United States invading Iraq, nor did I ever state that I did. That assumption is simply your opinion from what little you've gathered from me. You can read more about me in my five-part series that's linked in my bio. From the Iraqis I personally interacted with, none of them blamed Americans for what happened to Iraq. They did, however, blame the select American people in power that made decisions regarding the invasion of Iraq. People in Iraq are welcoming of Americans, and other visitors because tourism contributes to their local economies. The money from tourism is pocketed by local business owners, that's a good thing. However, how is tourism supposed to be promoted if a "we hate you because of this" agenda is pushed? Build bridges, not walls. These are just observations I've made while traveling to Iraq and speaking with the people there. If you want to provide some links to those studies, I'll take a look. -Zahra Ahmad

El-hurracan4 karma

A friend of mine is ethnically from Iraq, she has told me stories of how her family was persecuted due to them being from the sunni sect of Islam. Does conflict between the 2 sects still exist? Is it still significant, or does the next generation care less?


Not OP, but those divides still exist. It depends on which part of the country you are in. In Anbar, in the west, there were three tribes loyal to Saddam Hussein. They had money and power. Under the de-Baathification policy, a different set of three tribes gained power through affiliation with the Americans. The first three were disenfranchised, so they helped ISIS spread in 2014, so they could regain control of the region. All of these tribes are Sunni. There can be issues in the south, where Shia is more predominate, and where there are Shia sacred sites that are fiercely protected. In the north, the Kurds still protect their region to maintain semi-autonomy to protect their culture and way of life.

It's not different from how there are still some parts of America where blacks know to keep driving and not stop. It's less about who they are, and more about protecting wealth/power and some perceived cultural identity by making a person into "other."

People are people. They just want to get paid, raise a family, and increase their prestige, in about that order.

There are many parts of Iraq, from Saddam's era until now, who coexist regardless of religion or ethnicity. Most of the divide is a strawman to engender animosity for personal gain.

The external influence of Riyadh and Tehran doesn't help anything, though.

mlivesocial2 karma

Thank you for the thoughtful response and contribution to this conversation. " People are people. They just want to get paid, raise a family, and increase their prestige, in about that order. " I couldn't agree more. My father, Baba, is Shi'ite and my mother, Mama, is Sunni. The coexisted long enough to raise four children, but there was still an evident divide. One can only hope people learn to coexist so they can move the country forward, not back in time. Baba understands how polarizing beliefs can be. It's interesting to see his responses to gun violence in the states. From Baba on the recent shootings in El Paso and the polarization of people in the states, "This is not good. This divide is what happened in Iraq. It's going to happen here if it's not taken care of."-Zahra Ahmad

therealrsr4 karma

A question about back home, is the water potable yet?

mlivesocial4 karma

Flint or Iraq?

therealrsr5 karma


mlivesocial4 karma

The water is testing above federal regulations for lead. You can read about our Flint water coverage here:

Layersofthinking1233 karma

I hear there is alot of resentment towards the government incompetence and sectarianism. What's the view of the average Iraqi in terms of the future of Iraq and trust in the government?

mlivesocial6 karma

Speaking only from my experience talking to Iraqis, there is a lot of distrust in their government. The people I've conversated with believe there is a lot of money that isn't being spent appropriately. The biggest issue people in Iraq are suffering through is the lack of employment and livable wages. Everyone I talked to mentioned the only way to get employed is to know someone.-Zahra Ahmad

mlivesocial3 karma

All 5 chapters of Zahra's series are here:

Broomizo3 karma

What's your favorite place to go in downtown flint? I love tenacity.

mlivesocial2 karma

Probably Soggy's for a solid burger. -Zahra Ahmad

jon_stout3 karma

So, general scale of 1 to 10 -- how badly did we (as in the US) fuck everything up?

mlivesocial2 karma

Something to note, I don't blame all of the people in the U.S. for what happened in Iraq. There was a select group of powerful people that made bad decisions regarding Iraq and millions of people have suffered as a result. That doesn't excuse the bigotry and hatred some Americans have for Iraq or undermine the Americans who have empathy for the people in Iraq. The country is struggling to pick up where it left off before the war and Saddam Hussein's regime. There are many people grasping for power, the wealth isn't distributed properly and the education, economic and infrastructural systems are lacking the attention they so desperately need. There is a long way to go before Iraq is back on its feet. That's not to say people there aren't hopeful. They've survived so much trauma and they're slowly rebuilding a sense of stability. That isn't to undermine the amount of work it's going to take in order to recover from decades of war and to secure Iraq's borders. This is the time for young adults to take control and lead their country in the right direction. Speaking with the young adults in Iraq, they're driven and passionate about rebuilding their country. They're also very aware of the injustice in the country and the obstacles they're going to face. One can only hope they'll be able to claim their homeland back. -Zahra Ahmad

lobnob3 karma

Did you visit the bronze shoe monument while you were there? That's probably my favorite thing to tell people about Iraq


mlivesocial2 karma

Can't say I did. The link you provided is broken. -Zahra Ahmad

SqueegeeLuigi3 karma

My family left Iraq about 70 years ago. One of the things they would mention is that they felt like Iraq was more egalitarian than other middle eastern countries they visited, and women enjoyed better status. Is this still the case? Was it ever?

mlivesocial2 karma

Yes, and I was shocked to learn that myself. Please, if you get the chance read this chapter I wrote about women in Iraq and we can discuss this further. Cheers. -Zahra Ahmad

cracksilog3 karma

Were you impressed at all seeing the progressive women movement (like right to vote, etc.) in Iraq? How did that even begin? Was there some American influence there or was it more of a grassroots movement?

mlivesocial7 karma

Absolutely! I was so impressed by the strength and resilience of women in Iraq. I met two doctors, a surgical technician and a surgeon. I learned my aunts received educations and pursued careers before getting married. Please, I invite you to read more about the women I met in Iraq in the second chapter of my series. Cheers!- Zahra Ahmad

iicecreamhoarder7 karma

Iraqi American girl from metro Detroit just stopping by to say... you’re awesome. Thank you for sharing your story, representing us, and crushing stereotypes.

Iraqi American women FTW!


The tenacity of Iraqi women is undeniable, in any part of the world. You are role models for us all!

mlivesocial2 karma

The strong-willed women in my life raised me this way! -Zahra Ahmad

Flyingwheelbarrow3 karma

How much of ancient Babylon still exists after the wars?

mlivesocial3 karma

It's mainly ruined. I wrote an entire chapter about it in my five-part series (linked below). It was interesting to walk among what's left of the place. Saddam tried to rebuild it while he was in power. I hope you enjoy the read! Hop back on here if you want to discuss the experience some more :)-Zahra Ahmad

xenophonf3 karma

I’m the grandchild of immigrants. While I’m wholly proud of my XYZ-American identity, I wish I had a closer connection to the cultures my family came from, starting with language. (I can speak a little of one but none of the other.) Conversely, my grandparents worked hard to assimilate, and you know what? They did great. I’m so proud of them. I’ve traveled a little, but even then I can only imagine how hard that must have been for them. I guess my question is, how do we find the balance between the old and the new, the past and the future? My own children speak only English, for example, and that’s great! but it makes me a little sad, like they won’t get a chance to experience the heritages that hold dear places in my heart.

mlivesocial5 karma

Great question. I believe there is a balance. Learning about my heritage gave me a newfound respect for my parents. So many have endured and survived wars for me to exist today. On another note, learning about my physical features is fascinating. Why do I look the way I look? A lot of it has to do with the environment my ancestors spent centuries living in! Learning about yourself is fun. When we kick it notch up and revisit our ancestors' land, we unlock thoughts and feelings we wouldn't otherwise have. That's not to say don't adopt parts of the American culture. You shouldn't have to pick one or the other. For instance, I love rap and the rap scene isn't exactly popping in Iraq. I'm not giving that part of my identity up just because I want to learn more about my lineage. My biggest regret is not learning to write Arabic. I can speak it perfectly fine, but I can't read or write it. I hope I can someday learn to, though! To sum it up, understand your culture and embrace the parts that resonate with you. Cheers! -Zahra Ahmad

aykay552 karma

How does religion impact your daily life?

mlivesocial10 karma

I'm agnostic, but growing up religion played a large role in my life. My father, Baba, is a very faithful man. He always pushed us to learn more about Islam. Personally, I had a hard time wrapping my head around any type of religion. Logistically, it just didn't make sense. As I got older I became more of a witness of Islam's impact on Baba rather than a believer. Faith has always seen Baba through his darkest moments. It's the reason he's never given up providing for my siblings and I. Right now, I'm eternally grateful for the strength Islam has instilled in Baba. While I can't say I've had a life-altering experience with religion, I can attest to the comfort it has provided my loved ones. -Zahra Ahmad

lefttheovenoff2 karma

Did you have any issues with immigration from the USA side, going and returning ? Ahmad in the name , Muslim sounding, going back to Iraq...

mlivesocial5 karma

Surprisingly, no I had no issues. I brought back a 3-foot-something decorative sword from Iraq, got it through the states without any issues. -Zahra Ahmad

billdietrich12 karma

I think in 2006, the Coalition and Iraqi govt ran a poll, asking the Iraqi people if they were better off under Saddam or under the post-invasion situation. The result was in favor of Saddam. So they never ran another such poll. If such a poll was run today, what would the result be ?

mlivesocial4 karma

Again, speaking from my experience talking to Iraqis, a majority believe Saddam was evil and deserved his demise others don't. It depends on how you look at it. My father was against Saddam and revolted against his regime as a young man. When Saddam was captured and killed, my father made us sit down and watch it. He thought it important for us to witness a man who forced him to flee his family, his home. Others saw Saddam as strong enough to keep the country's borders secured. My aunt says the country was cleaner and the borders were secured but the people in Iraq were starving and suffering from senseless wars. It depends on who you ask. Walking through Saddam's castle, he seemed mostly arrogant to me. -Zahra Ahmad

SigmaB2 karma

Do you have any opinions or reflections on how the media (not just news but TV and Hollywood) affects the perception of Iraqi's (or Arabs in general) in the eyes of American and Western public?

mlivesocial13 karma

Sure, it's primarily one-side and derived from century-old stereotypes of the Middle East. I say that because it impacted my own perspective of Iraq growing up. There was a picture of Iraq painted in my mind before I stepped foot on its land. It was filled with camels, donkeys, humvees, men in turbans and mounts of sand. Iraq is much more modernized than that. I didn't come across a single camel or donkey. Media seems to villainize and mystify the people from the Middle East. There are far more similarities than there are differences between people, regardless of where they are. For instance, Iraqi teenagers love Instagram, Snapchat and video games. My biggest issue with American media's depiction of the Middle East is it instills fear in its audience. That fear prevents people from traveling to the Middle East to empathize with other humans. In order to develop a well-rounded opinion of Iraq, you must travel there or immerse yourself in its people. If you can't make the trip, try sparking an open-minded conversation with your Middle Eastern neighbor, coworker, etc. That's a wonderful first step. -Zahra Ahmad

cyria982 karma

Hi! Thank you so much for doing an AMA!

I’ve been planning a trip to Iraq to explore the country and culture as I’ve had many Iraqi friends share their culture with me. As an Asian immigrant in the states, where would you suggest are the best places to go and any travel tips as a whole? For more context, I immigrated here when I was very young, and I could relate heavily when you mentioned that you felt the best way to succeed was to assimilate. I thought I felt like an outcast feeling this way, but it’s refreshing to hear there’s another person who felt this way as well!

Also if I would run into any issues traveling? You mentioned that although you would get some looks, people were very hospitable and kind.

mlivesocial6 karma

Hey! Thanks for reaching out and so happy you could resonate with the series. I would highly recommend going to Erbil, Iraqi-Kurdistan. That's where I spent my first week in Iraq. The people are very friendly! If you have time and want to check out some mountains, we visited Mount Korek in Iraq-Kurdistan. You take a gondola ride up with the mountain and can rent a cabin. It's absolutely gorgeous. I was born in Sulaymaniyah, Iraqi-Kurdistan. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to go, but I heard wonderful things about how open-minded the people there are. I would say if you get the chance, travel to that city. If you're serious about going, shoot me an email at [[email protected]](mailto:[email protected]) and I'll connect you with some humanitarians that have lived in the country for a few years now. Cheers!-Zahra Ahmad

jimmywilddog2 karma

How dangerous is it to fly to Bagdad, rent a vehicle (if possible), and go on a road trip? Does gender or ethnicity make a difference in the level of danger?

mlivesocial3 karma

I would say flying is the safest way to get around Iraq, but not the only way. If you'd like to travel via car, do a road trip, I recommend getting a fixer! They're people whose jobs are escorting you around the country, and they're awesome badasses. My best friend Bronte got a fixer and he was unbelievably helpful. -Zahra Ahmad

Pleased_to_meet_u2 karma

What do you think about the revitalization of downtown Flint, Michigan? Do you think the work they've done in the few surrounding city blocks will be enough to turn things around for downtown Flint?

mlivesocial6 karma

I've only lived in Flint for about two years. From talking with residents, downtown has been developed significantly but there is hesitation in saying the same amount of attention will be given to the rest of Flint. -Zahra Ahmad

LolaLiggett2 karma

Hey, thank you for your AMA, it’s really interesting :) As an Iraqi would you say the country change for the better in years following the American invasion? What do the people over there think? Are they happier with how things are now or where they happier before?

mlivesocial2 karma

I can't say for certain because I don't remember what it's like before the invasion. But from listening to my parents' and different family members, I think there are ups and downs to both periods of time. There is more stability in Iraq now than there has been in more than a decade. I wouldn't have been able to visit otherwise. That's not undermining the hardships people still face today. There is more opportunity to rebuild now, however. I hope that people with the right intentions take hold of that opportunity and build Iraq better than what it once was. -Zahra Ahmad

mully_and_sculder2 karma

If I read your post correctly you regret assimilating to American culture? In what ways would you prefer the usa to be like Iraq?

mlivesocial2 karma

I wouldn't say I regret assimilating to the American culture, I'd say I regret choosing between Iraqi and American culture. I felt I had to assimilate completely in order to succeed in the states, and that's just not true. By abandoning my Iraqi culture at a young age, I was ignoring morals and beliefs that shape me into a better person. There are faults and strengths in each of the cultures. If I could narrow it down to one, I'd just wish Americans were more tightly knit. Being someone who's really into true crime, I can understand people's hesitancy, however. People in the states are much more individualistic, and I've noticed that in myself growing up here. In Iraq, familial ties are really strong. I saw my cousins almost every day as a child. A lot of my friends in states go years without seeing their cousins. That's just one observation. -Zahra Ahmad

ilong4spain2 karma

Are you Chaldean?

mlivesocial2 karma

I am not. My father, Baba, is Shi'ite and my mother, Mama, is a Sunni. I am fairly agnostic. -Zahra Ahmad

Pornosec0012 karma

When are you going back?

mlivesocial2 karma

In a few months! Looking forward to reuniting with my family.-Zahra Ahmad

zagzigga2 karma

Crippling economic sanctions were imposed against Iraq after Gulf war 1. Are they still in place or have they been lifted after Saddam Hussein's ouster? How is the ground reality there? Is the country progressing towards normalcy or is it still caught in violence between warring factions?

mlivesocial2 karma

Hey there! This is from an Oxford graduate and humanitarian in Iraq studying its economy:
"No the sanctions are not in place, they were removed at the onset of the 2003 Iraq war. But yes they were crippling, and led to the oil for food programmes in the mid /late 90s. My take on the ground reality is, it is progressing, slowly, sometimes with 2 steps forwards and 1 back, and sometimes the other way round. Open conflict has subsided substantially, but ISIS are still there, and will continue to carry out terror attacks. (The government knows this.) But there is a lot to be done - a lot of infrastructures has been destroyed and unemployment is high. In the ISIS-held areas, the poverty rate could be as high as 40%. Iraqis are tired after 15 years of war but they are resilient and they are rebuilding, slowly. The government and international partners are investing. If things remain broadly as they are now, things could be much much better in a decade or so."

Hope that helps-Zahra Ahmad

EvelyGreen2 karma

Is food from other countries outside the middle East popular? If so, which ones?

mlivesocial2 karma

Yes! I had burgers, pizza and there was even an Italian spot. It was so interesting to see different foods from around the world incorporated in Iraqi restaurants. -Zahra Ahmad

kori082 karma

Hello there! Thank you for sharing this wonderful journey of yours.

In your opinion what do you think the Americans could learn from the people and culture in Iraq?

mlivesocial2 karma

Resilence and strong familial ties. People in Iraq are so incredibly strong. They're also very tight-knit in terms of family. My parents raised me to love and respect my siblings unconditionally. The morals that instilled in me are empathy, understanding, patience, and generosity. These aren't things that can be bought, only taught. It was almost like they were preparing me in advance for the adversity I'd face down the line. Life has thrown every categorical curveball at me. I've managed to stay strong, focused and refuse to hold resentment towards others. I truly believe those qualities are derived from being extremely close with my siblings. I understood these are humans with the same emotions as me and I need to treat them as such, no matter how much they annoy me. Most importantly, I've learned to forgive but not forget. I don't hold onto hot stones, but I do learn from the adversities I've faced. Loving my family unconditionally has made it easier to understand and empathize with other humans. Cheers. -Zahra Ahmad

bestminipc2 karma

what's the most important things you learned from tracing your roots? and do you think it'll similar to other ppl that traces their 'roots'?

mlivesocial2 karma

A newfound respect for my lineage and the adversity my ancestors overcame for me to be where I am today. I sure hope so. There is something very inspiring knowing you come from a line of survivors. Cheers. -Zahra Ahmad

shamusotool2 karma

When you went back to Iraq this year did you encounter any people who are familiar with the water situation in Flint? What's their response?

mlivesocial2 karma

Just the international humanitarians I met. Their response was like everyone else, initial shock.-Zahra Ahmad

worshipfruit6662 karma

How do people in Iraq view ancient Babylon? I know that Saddam Hussein clained something about being a descendant of one of the Babylonian rulers (Nebuchadnezzar maybe?), could you expand on that a little bit?

mlivesocial3 karma

You know, I'm not totally sure. I was shocked at how little foot traffic there was when I visited Babylon. My family has lived in Iraq their entire lives and the first time they visited Babylon was with me in February. -Zahra Ahmad

T_WRX212 karma

Man, I loved Iraq. Still miss it. I spent 16 months there, and the duality of that place astounds me even today. It was crazy dangerous back then, but I spent most of my time there walking the streets, meeting people every day, being invited in for chai and snacks. I didn't think Mosul was very beautiful, and the poverty was abject, but it wasn't in the least what I expected.

Looking back on my time there, it was far more good than bad. We spent most days wandering around waiting for someone to take a shot at us, but we were more likely to go get gas for some family that ran out and didn't have a car, than to take incoming fire.

I walked down streets filled with pools of human waste, watching the sun rise over the walls of Nineveh, reaching up over my head as I passed a fruit tree, picking a softball sized grapefruit. Hordes of kids picking unwary pockets. Resting in the shade of an old ass tree, drinking 200° F tea in 120° F weather.

Funny the things that stick out. Maybe time softened the edges.

My question is, what do you miss about it now that you're home? What did you hate about it while you were there?

mlivesocial3 karma

I miss my family the most. I felt so comfortable being myself around them. I hated how poorly the wealth is distributed there. People are working so hard to earn so little. -Zahra Ahmad

lanto66441 karma

With all the superpowers fighting to control Iraq for there own interests you see a day where peace will be possible?

mlivesocial1 karma

One can only hope. -Zahra Ahmad

I_Drive_Trucks0 karma

How was it to travel somewhere that actually had fresh water?

mlivesocial3 karma

Michigan is home to the largest reservoir of accessible freshwater. Yum! -Zahra Ahmad

mlivesocial-3 karma

In this YouTube video, Zahra tells us about her journey back to Iraq and how this project came about:

tartan_monkey-14 karma

How does it feel having Flint in worse repair than Iraq?

mlivesocial23 karma

Flint is definitely not in worse repair than Iraq, let's make that as clear as possible. Flint has an economic and infrastructure issue. Iraq is coming back from decades of war.