As the bombing of the tanks and airplanes continued, people kept running and throwing away their loads gradually. First, bags, then food, then water, then, I always feel sad when I come to this part, some women got so tired of carrying their little children that they left them on the side of the road and kept running for their lives—or perhaps towards their deaths? While running with many people, I saw one woman with two little kids on her shoulders. She kept running and looked extremely tired. At some point, she became too tired to carry her two children, so she put them both in a big hole on the side of the road and carried on. That was one of the harshest moments of forced abandonment I had ever witnessed in my life. To this day, it makes me wonder what “love” is, how much can one really love, what are the limits of love?
It was sad to see people get rid of their ration food when it was the most essential thing for their survival at that time. They were unable to keep even the most basic items for survival, because of tanks behind their backs firing left and right, and the planes over their heads throwing bombs haphazardly. My mother was struggling to keep us around her while running and holding our hands and looking in all directions at once. I still remember how I released myself from her dress and went to look at a deep hole caused by a bomb where I found four living chickens left behind by somebody. I wanted to go down inside the hole, grab them, and take them with me. Before I knew it, my mother pulled my hand, dragged me, and kept running. As we kept moving, we kept our eyes open trying to find another bus to take us to our next city, Sulaimani, but finding another bus was proving increasingly difficult with every second ticking away. In a warzone, seconds matter and can well become a matter of life or death. As the bombing became heavier, it became impossible to keep running, because now we started seeing the tanks of the Iraqi army only a few meters behind us, while the American planes were bombing from above. I still remember my mother shouting at two Iraqi soldiers at the top of the tank and asking why they were doing this to people. “Don’t you have mothers or families,” she shouted at them.
We reached a location near Erbil city center, and people said that one of the big buildings there had a safe basement where many families sheltered themselves waiting for the bombing to slow down or stop. We followed people and entered the first floor of that big building that looked painted in yellow from the outside, but the painting had started fade away, a thing that made it look like it was painted with rust. Inside the building, we found stairs leading to the shelter that was full of families. After about half an hour of waiting in that shelter, packed with the hundreds of people with hardly any space to move one’s feet, the sound of missiles and bombs became louder and scarier than ever. While waiting, my mother was chatting with a Kurdish family of a man and his wife who had two college-age daughters who looked in their twenties. The man looked like he was in his late fifties. He spoke the same Kurdish accent spoken in Kirkuk (Sorani), so I understood what he was saying. He was telling my mother that he thinks if this building gets bombed, it will be fatal for us all. He advised us to join them and leave the building immediately. My mother was reluctant to take his advice, but after negotiating it with the Christian family accompanying us, they agreed that he was right. Everyone seemed to know that it was a risky thing to do, but we decided to follow the man and his family out of that basement. It was the most serious act of gambling to take given the time, the place, and the circumstances.
As we were crossing the street, the building became on the other far side of the street. Meanwhile, something happened and changed my view of this world and humanity. We heard a loud sound of a bomb mixed with the shattering of glass and rubble. It was so loud that it felt that we would lose our hearing after it. The entire building in which we were sheltered a few minutes ago collapsed over the families who were left there before our eyes. Those left inside became in the past tense in a matter of minutes.
That memory is still frozen in my mind just like an old painting in an old museum. Although we survived because we left that building, when I think of the destiny of the people who stayed in that shelter, I refuse to attribute this to “God’s care,” because how could God love some of us more than others? I equally refuse to attribute it to “luck”. In fact, this disaster often makes me question the very notions of “luck” as we know it. I think if one has to really think of it as a matter of luck, then it must be that the people who died there were “luckier” than us, because, as Plato says, “only the dead have seen the end of war.” I have learned that surviving a war is never a matter of luck, because we never heal from its wounds, and it never dies or ceases to exist inside the heads of the “survivors”.
At the same time, I believe that the people who died inside that building would have been the most qualified witnesses to tell us how catastrophic the first Gulf War was. At this point, all I feel is that the hundreds of people who most likely died there became a wound in my heart that will never heal. They have become a stigma on the foreheads of the entire international community that let such appalling things happen to innocent people under different pretexts like: “Fighting a dictator,” “fighting terrorism,” and “liberating the oppressed,” and so on and so forth of such hypocritical rhetoric that continues to this day in other selected Middle Eastern countries.
“Life is for the living. Death is for the dead. Let life be like music. And death a note unsaid.” ― Langston Hughes