ZEENA ZAKARIA, 20
Vice: When did you come to London?
Zeena: I moved here from Baghdad when I was seven. My mother and father were doctors there but they decided to leave when things in Iraq started to go bad. This was a few years before the American invasion.
We had to flee the country in secret because if Saddam found out that doctors were leaving the country he’d do something about it. Travel was really limited under Saddam. Sadly, it’s probably got even worse since he went.
How did it get worse?
Before the Americans came, Iraq was very much a secular country. There were Muslims, Christians, and Jews all living there. Some people would wear headdresses like the one I’m wearing here but my mother would never wear anything like this.
These days though, with everything how it is, more and more women are wearing
full headdresses and hijabs. The extremist religious militias are taking advantage of the fact that there’s virtually no law any more and so they’re attacking people for what they wear. The extremists are both Shia and Sunni and they’re all divided up into different groups. It’s a total mess. They want to turn the place into a religious state and I think they probably will.
What are you doing here in London?
I’m studying politics but I want to make films. I like going to drum and bass nights and my boyfriend’s really into grime.
How do you dress day to day?
I love heels. I’m really short so I want to be tall. I suppose I dress quite slutty really. I like shopping at Top Shop and American Apparel for stuff to wear around the house.
What if you dressed slutty in Iraq right now?
I think I’d be shot. Right now the most popular items of fashion in Baghdad are veils and bulletproof vests.
SAMAR BASROWI, 23
Vice: So where is your family from?
Samar: Basra. My dad was a chauffeur there.
And how does your family feel about what’s happening there?
It makes us mad. They’re oppressing us in Iraq. Even the Westerners know that now. If you count the ratio of soldiers that have died compared with the amount of innocent civilians that have been killed ruthlessly, it’s absolutely disproportionate.
Here’s another thing: They think it’s OK to kill Saddam but still have a total dictator like George W. Bush in power. It isn’t.
If you watch Al Jazeera you see the major contrasts in how the news is communicated here and there. You don’t see the real reasons behind all the problems. It’s not just Americans vs. Muslims. That’s not what it is at all.
What is it?
When Saddam was in power there was a Muslim divide between the Shia and the Sunni, but nothing like the amount of conflict happening now. I think a lot of the extremists of those two sects are actually happy that Saddam was brought down because they can take advantage of the total lawlessness that exists there. The government is useless. The power in the country lies in random militias.
You sound angry.
I see the latest headlines and the latest so-called “breakthroughs” and it makes me physically sick. Whenever I look at the media I know my day is going to be ruined by being exposed to all the stuff that’s out there. And you do get the feeling that you can’t do anything about it. I try and block it out and it gets me very heated.
Sometimes I get into debates with the people I work with at this music licensing company. People’s pure ignorance leads to total frustration. And then it’s clobbering time.
DALIA DAWOOD, 18
Vice: So your family is from Basra but you all live in London now. Are you planning on visiting Iraq soon?
Dalia: I would love to visit but at the moment it’s a bit dangerous.
What do you think is going to happen?
Well, I don’t see it calming down. My uncle is there in Basra but it’s difficult to get through to him. Their house phone isn’t working and we have to call the neighbors. There’s a lot of shootings on the road they live on so they find it difficult to leave the house.
When was the last time you spoke to them?
About six or seven months ago. He said conditions were bad. This was around the time when my other uncle Ashraf was shot through the head at his front door because he owned a few buildings and he was letting American soldiers stay in them. Some people saw that as being a traitor.
Do you remember your uncle?
Yes. He used to own an ice cream van and would come over and give us ice creams. He was a really bubbly character. We couldn’t go to the funeral in Iraq so we held a service here in London.
Was it a Muslim service?
No. We are Roman Catholic. Before the Americans came to Iraq it wasn’t a problem to be Christian there. There were Catholic churches in Iraq.
How does it feel to watch the TV coverage of Iraq?
Al Jazeera is quite brutal. It shows really detailed stuff. It’s so disturbing for me I have to get up and walk away.
It’s sad to see my home country in the state it’s in. I have very few memories of Iraq now and what I see in the media is what I see in my mind. It makes me feel quite upset.
What do you do to cheer yourself up?
I’ll go out every now and then with some friends. I like R&B and soul. Justin Timberlake’s CD is great. I’m going to see him play in July hopefully!
PHOTOS BY ALEX STURROCK STYLING BY ALDENE JOHNSON
HAIR & MAKEUP BY LINDA ANDERSSON AT S MANAGEMENT