Soon after the US-British bombing campaign known as Operation Desert Fox devastated parts of Iraq in December 1998, I was complaining to a friend in the lobby of Baghdad's Palestine Hotel.
Our busy schedule in the country, mostly visiting hospitals packed with the injured and the victims of depleted uranium, had left me no time to buy a few Arabic books for my little daughter.
As I was about to embark on the long bus journey back to Jordan an Iraqi man approached me.
"This is for your daughter," he said with a smile as he handed me a bag with more than a dozen books inside, colourfully illustrated - traditional Iraqi children's stories.
I'd never met him before and I never saw him again. As I thanked him he insisted there was no need: "We are brothers and your daughter is like my own."
I wasn't too surprised - such generosity was familiar in Iraq, a cheerful perseverance in the face of the untold hardship of the country's modern history.
It was Britain that triggered Iraq's modern tragedy, beginning with its seizure of Baghdad in 1917 and the haphazard reshaping of the country that followed in order to fit it to the economic needs of London.
The legacy of the mess created by the British left a legacy of rampant sectarianism, political violence and border feuds between Iraq and its neighbours which arguably continue to the present day.
But now of course it is the United States which deserves most of the credit for reversing whatever the Iraqi people had managed to achieve in terms of sovereignty.
It was US secretary of state James Baker who reportedly warned Iraq's then foreign minister Tariq Aziz in 1991 that the US would bring Iraq "back to the stone age."
The US war which stretched from 1990 to 2011 included a devastating blockade and ended with a brutal invasion.
The war was as unscrupulous as it was violent. Aside from the colossal death toll the strategy of exploiting the country's existing fault lines has triggered civil war and sectarian hatred from which Iraq has yet to recover.
For the US the strategy was aimed at lessening the pressure on its own soldiers by diverting their enemies into attacking each other. For Iraqis it was a nightmare that cannot be expressed in words or numbers.
Not that numbers are lacking. The UN estimated that "an average of more than 100 civilians a day" were killed violently in Iraq between May and June 2006. For the year it estimated a total of 34,000 civilian deaths.
The US and Britain have jointly destroyed modern Iraq, and no amount of remorse or apology - not that any has ever been offered - can alter this fact.
Its old colonial masters and its new ones lacked any legal or moral ground for their actions. Ten years on people talk of the Iraq war as a historical event, but the stage has been set for an ongoing conflict which promises to be as bloody as the past.
When the last US combat brigade left in December 2011, Iraq merely entered a new phase of conflict - one to which the US and Britain remain integral parties.
One post-invasion and war reality is that Iraq is divided into areas of influence based on purely sectarian or ethnic lines. So the Sunnis, blamed for being favoured by the ousted Saddam Hussein, lost out as a new political elite divided between Shi'ites and Kurdish politicians, each group with its private armies.
The Shi'ite population was then held by various militant Sunni groups to be responsible for Sunni suffering. This is still the case. On February 8 five car bombs blew up in "Shi'ite areas," killing 34 people. Four days before 22 people had been killed in a similar fashion.
Iraqi Sunnis, including major tribes and political parties, are demanding equality and the end to their disenfranchisement by the political system led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Massive protests and ongoing strikes have been organised with a unified and clear political message.
But others are exploiting the polarisation in every way imaginable - to settle old scores, to push the country back towards civil war, to amplify the mayhem in other Arab countries such as Syria and in some instances to adjust sectarian boundaries to create business opportunities.
Yes - sectarian division and business go hand in hand in today's Iraq. Exxon Mobil has hired Jeffrey James, US ambassador to Iraq from 2010-12, as a "consultant."
There is more to this story than meets the eye. Taking advantage of the autonomy of the Kurdistan region of Iraq, the multinational oil and gas giant has struck lucrative deals which are independent of the central government in Baghdad.
The latter has been amassing its troops near the disputed oil-rich region since late last year. The Kurdish government has also mobilised its soldiers.
Unable to work out which party has the upper hand, Exxon Mobil is torn - honour its contracts with the Kurdish authorities or seek more potentially more lucrative ones in the south?
James might have good ideas, especially if he can use the political leverage acquired when he was ambassador.
The future of Iraq is being determined by competing forces, almost none of which is composed of Iraqis with a uniting vision.
Caught between bitter sectarianism, extremism, the power-hungry, wealth-amassing elites, regional power players, Western interests and the perpetual backdrop of deadly violence, the anguish of the Iraqi people cannot be described.
A proud nation with impressive human potential and huge natural resources has been torn to shreds.
Ahead of the upcoming 10th anniversary of the Iraq invasion British-based Iraqi writer Hussein al-Alak wrote a tribute to the country's "silent victims," its children.
Iraq's Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, he noted, says there are 4.5 million orphans in the country. A shocking 70 per cent have lost their parents since the 2003 invasion.
Alak reports that around 600,000 of these orphans are living on the streets, "without either shelter or food."
Even those in the state-run orphanages "are currently lacking their most essential needs."
One of the books that kind stranger gave my daughter all those years ago told the story of a brave, handsome child called Sinbad who loved adventure as much as he loved his country.
No matter how cruel his fate had been, Sinbad always returned to Iraq and began anew, as if nothing had ever happened.
Iraq's children today have no such option. I still think of what that man said to me, that my daughter was like a daughter to him because we were brothers. I wonder how his own children have fared since his country was ripped apart.