• Chapter 98: An Iraqi Child’s Perspective, Part 1

    May 2, 2016
  • The following article is from an Iraqi child writing from her own perspective of what the war was like for her and her family. While she would have been too young to fully understand what was happening and why, and I don't agree with the conclusions she draws from it, I think it only fair to include it with my personal accounts. I also find it very interesting, especially how she describes the love her mother had for her father near the end of the story. It was a demonstration of true love in an environment full of hate and violence. Her story is long so I will break it up into six parts.

    When the First Gulf war started in 1991, I was a child who had a strong passion for raising chickens. I had four chickens of different colors, and my favorite was a black and white one with sharp and beautiful orange-colored eyes. My four chickens were also loved by the other members of the family, mainly because they laid eggs. For me, however, my love for raising chickens was beyond the material benefits gained from them. I spent a big chunk of my day observing their behaviors: how they ate, how they played, and even how they laid eggs in the coop that I built for them from cement blocks. My time was divided between school, doing homework, and spending time with my chickens. They were my indispensable friends.

    I did not like to mingle with school children so much because I had no mutual interests with most of them. One incident I still remember vividly is the first day my favorite chicken laid her first egg. I was near the coop watching her trying to lay her first egg. I was overjoyed that the long-awaited day had finally come. She spent a long time trying to let the egg out, but with little success. After some time, I heard a loud noise of what sounded like a heavy explosion outside. The sound startled both me and my little chicken, a thing that forced her to release her first egg onto the coop’s muddy floor and it broke—the first Gulf War had started.

    Our neighbors in Kirkuk at that time were mostly nice people, with whom we built rapport since we moved to the neighborhood. The wall-to-wall neighbors were especially kind and helpful. They were a Shi’ite family from the southern Iraqi city of Najaf. During the early days of the war, my father, like many Iraqi men then, was drafted by the Iraqi state to enroll into what was then called al-Jaish al-Sha’bi [the popular army], which consisted of poorly-equipped groups of supposedly “civilian volunteers” to form defense units during wartime. As noted, the “volunteers” were forced by the state to join these groups. At any rate, my father was put with a group of other men to “protect the surroundings of Kirkuk”.

    However, as soon as the bombing started, most of his mates escaped, and he found himself along with two other men out of nowhere. We had no clue where he was taken at the time. We were not even sure whether he was living or dead, and as the bombing intensified and the electricity went off in most parts of the city, we were frightened in our house, and we did not know what to do. My mother was pregnant at the time with my youngest sister. The louder the bombing became, the more we were intimidated by it. In fact, my young sisters started crying and my mother did not know how to console them.

    During the early nights of the war, when we, the children, started crying out of fear, the mother of our wall-to-wall Shi’a neighbors came to talk to us over the wall and said that she knows my dad is not home and we are scared just as they were, but she suggested that we should join them for the night and, in her words, “if we die, we shall die together; if we survive, we shall survive together.” The power was off all the time, which made the bombing even more intense and frightening. There was a total blackout. Some people said that this was a tactic used by the government to keep it dark to make it hard for the American planes to find their targets. When the night fell, it felt like there will be no more mornings to come. The nights were so cold, dark, rainy, lonely, and long. There was also no water at all. The only way for us to get water to drink was by collecting rain water.

    We put a big, wide pot in the middle of the garden, and waited for it to collect rain water. After rain stopped falling, we went to the garden to see that the pot was filled with black water (water mixed with the residue of bombs, smoke, gases, and God knows what else in the air). We waited for the black particles to settle down, and then used it as “drinking water”. We did this throughout our stay at home in the First Gulf War. At this point, my family’s life was reduced into: A lost father, frightened and crying children, darkness, shortage of food, water, and heat, and uncertainty surrounding every corner of our lives. I will never forget sitting in the living room of our kind neighbors on the floor with some pillows behind our backs and their father reading to us stories on the light of the lantern to distract us from the loud sounds of bombs and missiles thrown on places we did not know, but sounded like they were exploding right inside our ears. One morning we saw many people gathered around one house nearby, and when we went closer, we found that a bomb had been dropped on that house the previous night and the entire family was dead. By the time I arrived there with many other people in the neighborhood, the bodies were taken away, but the images of the house that was totally demolished were so devastating. I still remember paying attention to the details of the scene such as the crushed closet with clothes, utensils, ties, sheets, and kitchenware, crushed fridge and furniture, all mixed with cement, blood, and rubble.

    Spending the nights with our wall-to-wall neighbors continued for a few days until they were too scared to stay in the city anymore, especially after many rumors started spreading about how the war was going to intensify and more blood was going to be shed in Kirkuk. People in our area were especially frightened by the thought that if the regime is toppled, and the Kurdish forces invade Kirkuk from the north, some revengeful massacres were surely going to take place. When there is nothing but darkness, I think it is easy for people to both spread rumors and subscribe to them at the same time. As the old saying goes: “They lie and believe their own lies.” Our neighbors decided to escape to the south, where they at least had their extended family. Some of the rumors that people started spreading were that the Coalition Forces had “won the battle,” and that “the Kurdish forces are on their way from the north to revenge and kill all the non-Kurds in the city,” since Saddam’s regime was no longer in place.

    This was the time when people thought that the Kurds and Shi’a were going to get the full American support and blessings for their intifada. Others said that Iran will start bombing to avenge the damage Iraq had caused them during the eight years of the Iraq-Iran war, and on and on went the rumors. There is no doubt that a chaotic environment is a perfect one for spreading rumors. People in the times of war and conflict can be like flocks of sheep heading towards any destination they are told is the “safe” one, even if it is in fact a fatal one. It is precisely during such times that people lose all sense of direction.

    “And everyone knows you can’t disprove a rumor.” 
    ― Jay Asher