madly in love with Iraq

15.1.07

What about them?

Nuha’s bloody hair, her torn clothes and her expressionless face was all I thought about watching him the mighty Saddam walking to the gallows.
Sitting on a small stool in our utility room back home and me standing there shakily pouring jugs of hot water over her head while my eyes followed the red water seeping through the floor drain.

How can I forget? That was the day I joined the grown ups and my happy go lucky times had come to an end.

Nuha my friend and neighbour lost a mother, a baby nephew, and her untie when Saddam’s Special Forces bombed the old city of Karbala in March 1991.
They were all buried under the wreckage of their own house including two other people who were visiting.

In January 1991 we took refuge in my uncle’s house on the outskirts of Karbala city.
As silly as one could be at that age, I spent the horrible nights of operation desert storm praying for the next morning to come quickly so I could join my cousins on their daily errands to the old city to meet up with Nuha and her family.

I still hold nice memories of that time; walking through the narrow allies around the shrines and how easy it was to loose each other as all women wore long black cloaks over their heads including us. I was the easiest to spot by others; my cloak was almost always tilted to one side or nearly falling off my head compared to my experienced mates who held it on confidently.
We had to rush back home before the sun sets and the air raids and rockets starts to rattle the whole area.
Karbala was spared the direct bombing, but was surrounded by military industrialization factories located in nearby Latifiyya and Mahmoudiya towns.

In spite of the frightful bombing during the night, there was an aura of optimism and hope in our house and probably in all the others in the city. My oldest cousin used to jokingly asks us whenever the shelling intensifies “What do you think guys, has he (Saddam) packed yet?”

How little we knew of what was about to happen.

Two days after Saddam’s speech ordering his troops to retreat from Kuwait, the real operation desert storm started.

We were so confused watching tens of helicopters flying at low level towards the old city, we thought at first that they were American, but soon the news were spreading of an uprising and of local people taking over the city.
We watched from the roof as columns of smoke blocked our vision and we could no longer see the domes of the two shrines.
Later in the evening screams on our street took all the men in the house out where they found five injured young men who had fled to what they thought a safe area.
We spent the night the twelve of us in one room anticipating the worse. No one said anything but we could clearly hear announcements through microphones by the rebels claiming their victory and another by the Special Forces asking everyone to surrender.

By dawn we heard a terrifying blast as the hussainya (Islamic shia centre) up the road was targeted. My little 8 years old cousin started to tremble uncontrollably and half of her face was paralysed. Without a word we all apart from my uncle left the house towards the surrounding orchards.
We walked aimlessly till we reached some shacks and stayed with the farmers for few hours.

I cannot believe it myself so I am not asking anyone to do so. But we did walk with many others through out the day till we reached Hilla and then we took a car to Baghdad.

After two days Nuha and her sisters arrived barefeet wailing and screaming in the street to tell us of what has happened to them.

Three relatives of mine were killed in Najaf that same week. One of them was only fifteen years old.

All the orchards we walked through were later burned to the ground. No more palm trees, no more orange trees and no more welcoming shacks.


Last week a man from the United Arab Emirates was sitting next to me in the plane praising Saddam. He told me bluntly “He was a hawk, wasn’t he?”.
A hawk in the Arab culture in case people don’t know is a symbol of courage, strength and intelligence as well.
The more I ignored that stupid man the more he persisted. So I finally told him “Listen I will answer your question only if you answer mine."
“How did Dubai look like 35 years ago?”
“A desert” he replied “And now?” I followed “A paradise” he said.
“How you people from the UAE are treated around the world today?” He twisted his head “respectfully” “and what do you think the attitude towards Iraqis is?”
He did not answer back.

It looks like in a world of no heroism everyone wants to create a hero regardless.

I wished then that I could understand Arabs and their mentality. Every time I thought I reached an understanding, their reactions shake me to the core.

No one commented when they found the “Hawk” in a hole. And when they did; we heard the absurdity of him being drugged and dragged in there. The same when they don’t want to know or hear about the atrocities he committed, or grant them justifications of some sort.

People should be ashamed of themselves when they identify themselves with this bastard and his cronies, or even think that his punishment was a blow to some.

What national hero? What justice?

Till this day many think that the shia is a rabble backed by a bunch of clergy men and Saddam did very well by slaughtering them.

It is hard to convince those people otherwise because this belief suits everyone. It is a struggle to keep things as they were for centuries.

Shelving these issues wouldn’t work anymore; peace and stability will come to the Middle East only when the distribution of power and wealth reflects the balance between communities.

When I remember them I feel relieved that he is no more.
When I see what is happening today I feel angry because it is all because of him.

It is them whom we should glorify, it is the Iraqis who are facing death whom we should rally for.

11 Comments:

  • My dear,

    I'm very sorry for the long nightmare that you, your family and the rest of Iraq had to endure. Remember that you are who you are today is a result of the long and difficult journey you have traveled. Its because of you that I and others get to finally hear about Nuha's ordeal.

    By Blogger Antar, at 4:23 pm  

  • Hala
    I think you have omitted an important part of the event.
    Specifically what took place between the end of military action by the American forces, and the start of military actions by the Iraqi army?
    I was working just north of Kerbala, and my Husband was in Kerbala in 1991 when things went so out of control.
    What we saw haunted us for a long time.
    Essentially what happened in Kerbala was not dissimilar to what happened in Baghdad in April 2003, official buildings were taken over, the hospital was ransacked, and looted, there were revenge killings and revenge actions taken against anyone affiliated or thought to be affiliated with the central government, including eyes gouged and tongues mutilated (I saw this myself), the streets were strewn with bodies.
    A few days later the helicopters and tanks arrived, and with them the military to inflict another round of indiscriminate reprisals, and take control of the city.
    The whole series of reprisals and counter reprisals were predictors of what was to follow.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:24 pm  

  • antar,
    It is lovely to see you again on my comment section.
    Thank you for your words.

    3eeraqimedic,

    I had no intention of omitting anything. I wrote down my own experience and I cannot write about what I have not witnessed myself.

    Your description though takes us back to the chicken and egg dilemma.
    For me human lives mean a lot and there is no justification for the loss of any.

    However those rebels reacted to the long humiliation, discrimination and oppression inflicted on them for years and years. And you have to remember that we are not talking about intellects rather than a bunch of ignorant.
    Mind you the looting,revenge and random killings are common practice in any appraisal so we were not unique in this respect.
    The reaction of the rebels was in itself much less than the tyranny imposed for decades. There were houses in Najaf since the eighties with no men in them; they were either killed and their bodies were denied from their families or disappeared and no one dares to ask about them.
    Anyway, mutilation was Saddam’s speciality and he successfully passed it equally to his men and his victims.
    Violence can only generate another.

    I am not defending anyone here or trying to imply that I know exactly what happened. But we are all dreaming of a peaceful and reasonable solution in a country that survived one tragedy only to fall into another.

    By Blogger hala_s, at 10:18 pm  

  • Precisely. Iraqis overcome one hurdle only to find themselves against a tougher one.

    It really is beyond me how Iraq has been able to survive after thousands of years having been subjected to the harshet of conditions - one coup after another and one disaster after the other, and yet Iraq is still there and Iraqis are, to this very day, getting slaughtered in their dozens.

    History is a cycle and we will emerge from this hurdle Inshallah.

    With regards to the idea that violence can only generate violence, that is true. However, we must do our best to put an end to this vicious cycle of bloody revenge. Why cant we be like South Africa? They are just as good as any developed country.. why.. because the people had a vision and worked towards making that vision a reality.

    as my late mother used to say, "tingithee".. it surely will..

    Regards,

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:31 am  

  • Hi
    Dears Hala & 3raqimedic
    Both of you are right , boht of your stories are real , yes there were criminal actions during the looting and the mess in 1991. However, Saddam was a goverment, a leader and moreover a mocked god, so if somebody did something bad, that person should be punished according to the rules, but to punish cities !, and to kill thousands! it doesn't make any sense, he was able to control the situation without that mass killing , but he wanted to shut all the mouths , so nobody would criticise him for beimg idiot and destroying the country by invading Kuwait.
    it was very easy for him to enter each city and to bring every criminal instead of arresting thousands of people , killing them and then mass graves.
    I think both of you were outside Iraq in 2003, before the war, we were informed that if one bullet would be shooted from a place , the goverment would destroy that city, instade of being prepared to fight the invadors , Saddam did all the preparations to fight Iraqis, you can ask anybody you know if you don't believe me .
    I agree with Hala that looting is common everywhere whenever there is a chaos, but a mass grave like the one in Al-Mahaweel is never common.
    I've mentioned these facts because many people try to justify Saddam's crimes by mentioning the looting or mentioning that Iraq is worse now.
    Good luck

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:35 am  

  • Hala and anonymous
    I agree with both of you, we all ultimately are dreaming of the same thing, and we all agree that violence begets violence, trying to understand why and how is the only was to move foreward, and we can only do that if we are honest with ourselves, and do not continue to portray ourselves as the victims, but to aknowledge that in order for terrible things to happen it only takes good people to ignore, or excuse.
    Goverments and those with absolute power can never be excused if they allow crimes to be commited against thier people, and ultimately they will pay the price.
    It pains me that we appear to be unable to break the cycle of violence, with people more concerned about revenge than working together to get somewhere better, and Hala I would not waste my time trying to explain things to our delightful Arab "brothers".

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:30 pm  

  • Hi again
    Dear 3raqimedic
    I know that all of us are going in the same way and thinking about the same thing .
    It doesn't make sense to waste our time claiming that we are victims and the others are criminals, yet , in our particulare problem "Saddam's execution" , we have to remind everybody who is Saddam .
    People have done unacceptable things , claiming that Saddam was a herro and his execution is an insult to Arabs , Muslims and Sunnis in particular, it's shameful to hear that Tariq AL-Hashimi announced that the execution of Bazan will affect the national unity project.
    In such situations we have to say something.
    Another thing , I know we shouldn't waste our time convincing our "brothers" Arabs about things, but we can't get rid of them , they will remain surround us, many people were talking about the dream shiites country "southern Iraq" , I can assure you that it will never exist, simple reason , they will not allow it , they start their war against shiites now, they hate them and being convinced that they're the worst in the world.
    We have to deal with them as a fact and fate .
    Good luck

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:15 pm  

  • Dear Hala
    sorry to come here many times
    Just one thing :
    If you want to understand Arabs mentality , think about it like that ; one eyed mentality ; they look at half of the truth, think about half of the facts , yet , they refuse the partial solutions.
    in arabic "yandhuroon ela nisf al haqia,yufakeroon bi nisf alhaqiqa ,yarfudhoon ansaf alhulool"

    Good luck

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:59 pm  

  • Little Penguin

    I wish we are like South Africans as well.
    Unfortunately culture and religion play a great role in the formation of societies.
    Stupid tribal heritage, cruel Bedouin customs and even the weather affects people attitudes and reactions.
    Our sad history made us brutal,bitter and very hard to please.
    And the worse thing is the unworthiness of human lives.

    By Blogger hala_s, at 4:09 pm  

  • Wallah ya Hala your words gave me goose bumps. Thanks for writing this post.

    By Anonymous Chikitita, at 6:07 pm  

  • By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:40 am  

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