OPINION — Army Specialist David Hickman, an African-American from North Carolina, was the last U.S. soldier to be killed in the almost decade-long war in Iraq.
Hickman was only 23 years old when a roadside bomb tore through his armored truck, causing him internal brain hemorrhaging. He was killed on November 14, just weeks away from the war’s end.
Hickman was one of 462 black people who fought and died under Operation Iraqi Freedom. A reported 2,727 African Americans were wounded in the war.
Though we hear about the conflicts between Shia and Sunni, ISIS, Kurds and the American-supported government of Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, nothing is said about Iraq’s appalling record when it comes to the treatment of people of African heritage in that country, a country where African-Americans fought, bled and died.
One would think that in the almost decade-long war to win freedom for the people of Iraq, there would be some pressure on that country by the U.S. to at least pass an anti-discrimination bill to win basic liberties for its black people.
An op ed written by Saad Salloum on the NYTimes.com called attention to the plight of Iraqi blacks and their struggle for justice. An estimated 400,000 Iraqis trace their origins to Sub-Saharan Africa, though that number could run as high as two million according to some reports. And yet blacks in Iraq have been marginalized because of their skin color. Salloum, who is editor-in-chief for Masrat, a magazine that advocates for Iraqi minorities writes of Jalal Dhiyab Thijeel, a dark-skinned Iraqi, who in the spirit of Martin Luther King and inspired by Barack Obama took up the cause for the abolition of discrimination in Iraq.
As a matter of background, anti-black racism in Iraq is pervasive. No Iraqi of African heritage has ever held high elected office. Racism is in housing, jobs and cultural life. Reportedly, blacks in Iraq are pejoratively referred to as “abd” or “slave.”
The 2003 U.S. intervention in Iraq inspired Thijeel to start a movement to build racial unity. He founded “The Supporters of Human Freedom in Basra,” an advocacy that won him the label, “Iraq’s Martin Luther King.” But sadly enough, like MLK, Thijeel was gunned down a year ago in Basra. The case was never fully investigated. Thijeel was murdered as he left a classroom where a picture of Barack Obama hung on the wall.
Meanwhile, Iraq has failed to enact its first anti-discrimination law or address its decades long racial problem at all. Slavery was abolished in Iraq in 1920, and with the challenges facing Iraq’s political crisis, the focus on racism aimed at blacks in that country appears to be far off.
Salloum reports in The Times, “Since Thijeel’s assassination, Iraq’s blacks have slunk back into the shadows.” In Basra, he says, “Blacks have resumed their identification as Shiites or Sunnis. Even Jalal’s [Thijeel’s] family refuses to speak out about what happened to him. They mourn him in private.”
But at least for now, the issue can be addressed and fought online through the words and writings of Thijeel. In a piece uploaded on August 4, 2010, Jalal Dhiyab Thijeel describes the plight of black Iraqis in his own words.
Follow Will J. Wright on Twitter: @willjwright.