She was hiding. Then again, everyone seemed to be hiding. It was October of 2003, eight months into the United States' invasion of Iraq.
But she was practically a child. And her enemy proved to be more insidious ? and heartbreaking ? than the ones we read about and saw on television.
Getting to her was my first hurdle. That meant having to clear the checkpoint, one of thousands erected throughout Baghdad. These makeshift sites were thrown together like a neighbourhood potluck ? except instead of franks and beans, it was a sombre medley of military sandbags, Iraqi and American police and machine guns.
One of the police officers stood to give me the third degree. Who was I? What did I want? My veil did nothing to assuage his concerns. After all, Baghdad was teeming with American journalists and aid workers who wore the veil out of respect for local customs. He had no reason to believe that I was Muslim just because I said so.
Having to prove myself was nothing new to me. I was a Muslim-American, an oxymoron according to some. Back at home, I'd grown accustomed to pledging my allegiance louder and more often than my peers. But affirming my allegiance to Islam? This was a first.
The police officer leaned forward and demanded that I recite the first chapter of the Quran, something Muslims recited five times a day during prayer. It was like asking a Christian to say the Lord's Prayer.
I closed my eyes and within minutes, the words came spilling out.
Author Note xiii
Chapter One: The Opening 1
Chapter Two: Road Trip 15
Chapter Three: Breaking the Barriers 27
Chapter Four: Choosing Sides 35
Chapter Five: A Lot Hotter in Hell 45
Chapter Six: Hysteria of Hope 55
Chapter Seven: Eyes Wide Shut 69
Chapter Eight: A Place of Fantasies 89
Chapter Nine: Fern 103
Chapter Ten: The Negotiating Chips 113
Chapter Eleven: The Whistle-Blower 125
Chapter Twelve: Playing with Fire 137
Chapter Thirteen: Locked In 165
Chapter Fourteen: Four Men and a Lady 173
Chapter Fifteen: Breaking Point 203
Chapter Sixteen: Purple Thumbs Don't Wash Off 213
Chapter Seventeen: Iraqi Brides 225
Epilogue: Dawn Approaches 233
Reading Group Guide 239
About the Author 243