By CNN Correspondent Arwa Damon.
Editor's note: Damon has been reporting from Iraq since 2003
I met a young woman, 21-year-old Noof Assi, in Baghdad on my most recent trip to Iraq in September. She says, “I have dreams, I was born a dreamy girl”. But then she pauses and adds: “Sometimes the reality just tells me – wake up.”
Baghdad is not a city that she can dream in. Noof is a gutsy woman. She drives herself around Baghdad, ignoring the Iraqi security forces at checkpoints intent on harassing her for being a female driver. She demonstrates, despite the government occasionally taking a page out of the historical pagebook and deciding to use brute force and intimidation to silence those who speak against it.
She had survived the worst of it, navigating through al Qaeda killing fields to get to high school, haunted by the images of corpses she saw on a regular basis. But last year, two car bombs targeting the trade bank of Iraq exploded next to her home, destroying her only real sanctuary.
Now Noof says, “When I lost my kingdom, when I lost everything in it, I started to think I have nothing in my own country. I love Baghdad but Baghdad doesn’t love me.”
Sadly, the security situation as the United States prepares to fully withdraw the military is exactly the same as it was a year ago when those bombs demolished Noof’s home. The numbers of attacks per day across the country has not changed in more than a year. Also in the last year, the government has accomplished, by most counts, nothing. More than 19 months after elections, it hasn’t even fully formed.
People who a year ago told me they were optimistic about the future of Iraq are now stunningly grim. Iraqis who are eligible for refugee status to America are still scrambling to get their applications through before the program closes. Many who vowed never to leave their homeland are exploring their options.
There is some, but not enough, faith in the Iraqi security forces. There are very real concerns that Iran is only further extending its tentacles into its neighbor. There are alarming signs that the sectarian fissures are beginning to emerge once again.
Fear still permeates everything. Fear of the present and fear that the future still holds the worst for a nation and a people that have been through so much.