Riverbend returns: first post from acclaimed Iraqi blogger in six years

By Toby Manhire In The Internaut

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Among the small group of Iraqi bloggers writing in English following the invasion in 2003, Riverbend was one of the most popular and acclaimed.

Her first post, at Baghdad Burning, in August 2003, explained:

A little bit about myself: I’m female, Iraqi and 24. I survived the war. That’s all you need to know. It’s all that matters these days anyway.

The pseudonymous blogger described with an evocative and poignant clarity the street-level impact of the US-led action, mixing culture and politics and gathering a wide readership.

In 2005, a book was published collecting many of her posts, Baghdad Burning: Girl Blog from Iraq (excerpted here).

In October 2007, Riverbend explained that she had fled with her family from a Baghdad that had become unliveably dangerous, choosing to settle in Damascus.

The blog came to an end, unheralded, with these words:

We live in an apartment building where two other Iraqis are renting. The people in the floor above us are a Christian family from northern Iraq who got chased out of their village by Peshmerga and the family on our floor is a Kurdish family who lost their home in Baghdad to militias and were waiting for immigration to Sweden or Switzerland or some such European refugee haven.

The first evening we arrived, exhausted, dragging suitcases behind us, morale a little bit bruised, the Kurdish family sent over their representative – a 9 year old boy missing two front teeth, holding a lopsided cake, “We’re Abu Mohammed’s house- across from you- mama says if you need anything, just ask- this is our number. Abu Dalia’s family live upstairs, this is their number. We’re all Iraqi too… Welcome to the building.”

I cried that night because for the first time in a long time, so far away from home, I felt the unity that had been stolen from us in 2003.

When violence broke out in Syria two years ago, there was concern online that she might have moved from one cauldron of conflict to another. But still no word from Riverbend.

And then, last week, as the Foreign Policy blog spotted, another post.

It reads, in part:

April 9, 2013 marks ten years since the fall of Baghdad. Ten years since the invasion. Since the lives of millions of Iraqis changed forever. It’s difficult to believe. It feels like only yesterday I was sharing day to day activities with the world. I feel obliged today to put my thoughts down on the blog once again, probably for the last time …

Finally, after all is said and done, we shouldn’t forget what this was about – making America safer… And are you safer Americans? If you are, why is it that we hear more and more about attacks on your embassies and diplomats? Why is it that you are constantly warned to not go to this country or that one? Is it better now, ten years down the line? Do you feel safer, with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis out of the way (granted half of them were women and children, but children grow up, right?)?

And what happened to Riverbend and my family? I eventually moved from Syria. I moved before the heavy fighting, before it got ugly. That’s how fortunate I was. I moved to another country nearby, stayed almost a year, and then made another move to a third Arab country with the hope that, this time, it’ll stick until … Until when? Even the pessimists aren’t sure anymore. When will things improve? When will be able to live normally? How long will it take?

For those of you who are disappointed reality has reared its ugly head again, go to Fox News, I’m sure they have a reportage that will soothe your conscience.

For those of you who have been asking about me and wondering how I have been doing, I thank you. “Lo khuliyet, qulibet…” Which means “If the world were empty of good people, it would end.” I only need to check my emails to know it won’t be ending any time soon.

The full post – which details the “lessons” of the last decade, is worth reading in its entirety.

The mystery around her identity remains, however.

Revelations that the author of the dramatic, widely read “Gay Girl in Damascus” blog, “Amina”, was not in fact a Syrian Lesbian but an American 40-year-old man living in Scotland, Tom MacMasters, led some to wonder about the authenticity of Riverbend.

MacMasters has said he has nothing to do with Riverbend, or any alleged “sockpuppet” bloggers.

It seems right to give Riverbend the benefit of the doubt.

More by Toby Manhire

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