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What it means to be Iraqi, 20 years after the U.S. invasion

The 2003 invasion of Iraq is a memory forever etched in the minds of millions of Iraqis who were living in and outside the country at the time. Years of war, followed by continued instability in the country, has cost generations time and trauma. In Ruptured Domesticity, a digital archive, Iraqi researcher Sana Murrani has collected the memories of Iraqis living inside and outside the country during the times of war.

Nearly 1.2 million Iraqis are still internally displaced due to the war, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. Through the project, Murrani, who is also associate professor in Spatial Practice and Architecture at the University of Plymouth, UK, pulled on memories of geographic spaces and forced travel due to the circumstances of war, but also what Iraqis carried with them to represent their homes.

Watch the conversation between Murrani and the PBS NewsHour's Yasmeen Sami Alamiri in the player above.

Murrani, an architect, approached the three-part project in an effort to understand how Iraqis created places of refuge amid uncertainty and war. The archive, a forthcoming book (to be released in 2024) and an exhibition currently in place at the London School of Economics Middle East Centre, center on the stories and memories of 15 Iraqis from different parts of the country – many of whom are still in Iraq.

"Through the conversations that I've had with Iraqis from the north to the south of Iraq, they kept on coming back to this thing of we never documented what was going on to us at the time. We don't have records, especially during the 2003 invasion when mobile phones and cameras, digital cameras, weren't readily available for people. So there was this thing of trauma that lingers, trauma that is carried with you, and it resurfaces in very different ways," Murrani said.

In the archive are images, memories and mementos from Iraqis who are working to remember their home as it once was. There's the story of Zeinab from Baghdad, who wanted to highlight "what was lost and what was gained," including a section of her father's library. She also wrote about images she took of the National Iraqi Museum. "My father's uncle donated his coin collection to the museum years ago. I spent most of my time as a child in the museum, and in 2003 when it was looted, I cried so much because that was the heartbreak and loss of innocence for me. But this photograph is my return to my second home after 15 years, it's different, but it's still there. A process of re-claiming," she wrote for the archive.

The idea of what home means and what it looks like is constantly being renegotiated. In the October 2019 "Tishreen" protests, thousands of young people in Iraq took to the streets to protest against corruption and instability in the country. But, they also made a collective call: "We want a homeland." That call urged against political factions and in-fighting that they say gave way to instability during and after the war. The movement was met with force and swift retaliation from the Iraqi government, but another form of protests would emerge again three years later, calling for an end of corruption and political in-fighting.

"This is the generation that has seen absolutely nothing other than trauma, other than invasion, other than corruption. And for them to think of a just world like that and to dream of a homeland like this, it was an absolute inspiration," Murrani said of the Tishreen protestors.

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