Tuesday, December 16, 2008
The 1991 shi'a uprising in Iraq
see this video as well, a lot of the footage from the above video came from here, and this contains the english subtitles
Iraq: Ali Al Hailla
by Kechia Smith-Gran and Brandon Sprague
Ali Al Hailla knows that words can be powerful. The former poet and soldier is from a small Iraqi town near Babel where, according to the Bible, the diffusion of different languages originated. As the story in Genesis goes, the denizens of Babel tried to build a tower to Heaven. They would have succeeded too, had not god confounded their words so they could not communicate.
But Al Hailla's words, in the form of an anti-war poem, communicated his sentiment all too well to the Iraqi secret police agents who have the habit of trolling for the smallest signs of dissent among its citizenry.
In 1983, Al Hailla was a sophomore studying English literature at Baghdad University. He joined a student club that was, through poems and short stories, protesting the Iran-Iraq war. Al Hailla wrote an allegorical poem about a musical shepherd who was drafted into the army only to lose a hand and foot to a landmine while on the frontlines.
The tale pointed out that not only did the shepherd lose his livelihood because he could not walk, but also without his hands, he could not play his flute, the one means of comfort he had Al Hailla said an informant went to the authorities. Listen to Al Hailla's poem.
"Under the one-party governmental dictatorship, I wasn't encouraging people to go to the army and I spent four years of life in jail for that," he said, the bite evident in his voice.
In prison he was given no writing materials, but it didn't matter. Al Hailla has not written a word of poetry since his release from jail.
"I learned my lesson. It's basically killing your spirit and that's what happened," Al Hailla said, the sadness and finality behind them poignant.
Al Hailla said he could not reveal his true identity out of fear that there may be retaliation against his family, some of whom still live in Iraq. And now, even though the 38-year-old has been away from Iraq for 10 years, the pain still remains. To use his gift of words would only unlock that pain.
"I tried to write sometimes but, you know, it gets you to the whole experience you had before and you suddenly feel there is some line you don't want to cross. You don't want to go there at all."
Released in 1988, Al Hailla went back to his family home in Hailla (also known as Al Hillah) in Babel, 50 miles south of Baghdad. It was the place he had spent a fairly idyllic childhood among the ruins of the ancient Babylon City two miles to the north.
As a child he played on the backs of the Babylonian lion statues and later on, as a teen, he took dates to the site of the hanging gardens, one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. He went off to university to seek more wonders. But he returned five years later looking so thin, so disheveled and so long in the beard, his mother did not even recognize him. She had believed him to be dead, which was not a surprising assumption since when people are arrested by the so-called 'civilian intelligence bureau,' they disappear completely. Their family cannot make inquiries; they are not allowed to see a judge or a lawyer. No one asks questions out of self-preservation. "They can't ask about you so basically they don't," Al Hailla said. "And when you get out they hide their eyes."
The ordeal extinguished Al Hailla's light. He quietly returned to the university to finish his studies, receiving his degree in English Literature in 1989, but from there on, his choices were limited. Although he wasn't inducted into the wartime draft -- the Iran-Iraq War ended in August of 1988 -- he was conscripted into the Iraqi Army for two years, the usual amount of time for a college graduate.
Personal choice is really a myth in Iraq, Al Hailla said. And that myth is exploded by the time children reach the sixth grade. That was the year Al Hailla and his classmates were forced to sign a pledge to become a member of Saddam Hussein's ruling Ba'ath Party. "It's part of the life there and you are in sixth grade, but what do you know about politics?" he asked. "So you make a decision for your life on a paper that you sign when you are 12 years old." Everyone in Iraq signed these cards, he said. Each and every one.
"With time, you find you signed basically to be executed if you are working with an opposition group or you want to work with secret party."
But despite the risks, Al Hailla broke his loyalty oath for a second and final time. When his unit, stationed in Al Amarah in southern Iraq, received orders to march on Kuwait in August 1990, Al Hailla decided not to go.
"My decision was to desert the army," he said. Al Hailla took a bus to Babel and hid at his uncle's farm nearby for four months until the United States and its coalition of allies began airstrikes on Iraq. By Jan. 17, 1990, the Iraqi army was in retreat. A month later, Al Hailla said, he heard of President George Bush Sr.'s call to the citizens of Iraq:
"There is another way for the bloodshed to stop," Bush said on Feb. 15, 1991, "And that is, for the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside and then comply with the United Nations' resolutions and rejoin the family of peace-loving nations."
The announcement was followed up with leaflets and broadcasts. Al Hailla was one of thousands of Iraqis who answered that call. Most paid with their lives.
"For two months we were fighting the regime and then, you know, politics always change and the Americans, their interests (suddenly were) not with revolution, their interests were to keep the dictator," said Al Hailla.
The Americans decided it was more prudent not to support the rebellion and as part of the Feb. 28 cease-fire agreement allowed Hussein to use his gun ships to crush the rebels on the ground.
"America left us to be slaughter in Iraq," Al Hailla said. "Basically there was fighting in Iraq and [the U.S.] said that's not the way we want it and so they let the Iraqi army kill them. Basically they killed more than 80,000 from the revolt."
Without the U.S. and its allies to fight, the Iraqi army soon took control of the borders so that Al Hailla and his comrades could not escape through Iran. They wandered along the border for two weeks until hearing about a refugee camp that had just opened up near Saudi Arabia.
Little did Al Hailla and the remnants of the rebel army know, but they were headed for another prison.
"The refugee camp was surrounded by army and we were not allowed to leave the camp and not allowed to do anything," he said, adding that they were captured as prisoners of war by the American army, even though the cease-fire had been signed 15 days before.
The GIs pulled out two weeks later, leaving the Iraqis' uncertain status and equally uncertain fate to the Saudi government. It was where Al Hailla would stay -- in a no-man's land in the middle of the desert -- for four years.
Life was hard. Closed off from the outside world, Al Hailla stayed in a tent with six other men in the camp, which was called Rafha.
"You know, when you live in the desert under 125 degrees in summertime and in a tent with no electricity, and nothing there, the situation was really bad," he said. It took its toll on Al Hailla.
Four years and I never saw green at all, no green. It was basically moving you know I always say this it is moving. The sand is moving; it is like the sea. You see the waves and it always sand, sand, sand," said Al Hailla.
After a year, the refugees in Rafha began radical protests for more rights and representation -- some buried themselves neck deep in the sand and allowed the elements to slowly kill them, some hanged themselves on makeshift crosses, others went on hunger strikes. Many died. According to Al Hailla, the Saudi guards opened fire on the crowd during a demonstration and killed 80 refugees.
But the protest worked. The United Nations agency for refugees opened an office to take care of the more than 30,000 Iraqis living there.
Since Al Hailla spoke some English, he got a job as a translator for the agency. By 1992, people started to leave the camp for Britain, Sweden, Canada, the United States and any other countries that would grant them asylum.
Al Hailla's turn came in 1994, when he was finally allowed to go to the United States. But he said he was lucky. The resettlement program to other countries was discontinued due to lack of world attention. And after nearly 12 years, there are still more than 5,000 refugees living in Rafha camp.
Al Hailla, who now lives in Washington D.C. with his wife Victoria, said that after Sept. 11, there is even less of a chance to get his former comrades out of Rafha. "The Congress and the state department said, 'It's over.' We are trying to keep (Iraqis) here out of trouble, not getting any new people."
Al Hailla said he feels mixed about going home. Two out of his eight siblings live in Europe after leaving under similar circumstances. But his family still living in Iraq does not mention their names. "My family saw what happened to me and my elder brother and my sister and they don't even want to talk about it. Like they are dead."
Still, it is home.
"Even if it's a really bad experience it's still home that's the place where you live. And sometimes you think, 'Oh god, I just want to go back and swim …or sometimes you think, 'Oh no I don't want to go back to that horror again and sometimes you think, 'I want to work to change that so next generation will never face what we faced.' You know home is home."
Al Hailla said until the government changes it is not his decision to go back. But when he recalls ancient Babel, the village of his childhood, he finds his words. The words of a poet.
"Life is so simple when there is no war. You know you live and you don't see limits, you see the open sky and you are a kid and just run and run and run behind a soccer ball. It's all that. Plum trees. The food which is different than here. It is in general something forbidden that you want to see. And you cannot delete your memories."
Saturday 8 November 2008 (10 Dhul Qa`dah 1429)
Iraqis in Rafha camp still struggling for asylum
Ghazanfar Ali Khan | Arab News
RIYADH: A total of 106 Iraqi refugees living in Rafha camp for the past 18 years are still struggling to find a third country for asylum, Firas Kayal, external relations officer at the UNHRC Regional Office here, said.
Asylum cases of the Iraqis, who fled Iraq and came to Saudi Arabia after the Gulf War, are yet to be considered by other countries.
“The UNHCR, however, is very grateful to the Saudi government, which has been extremely generous in providing food, shelter and medicine besides other basic amenities of life to about 35,000 original Iraqi refugees, who fled to Saudi Arabia at that time,” said Kayal, speaking after the release of a UNHCR report concerning refugees on Thursday. The report, first released in Geneva, provides a statistical overview of asylum applications filed in 38 European and six non-European countries.
The UN refugee agency report shows that the number of Iraqis seeking asylum in industrialized countries dropped in the first six months of 2008, but they were still by far the top destinations of refugees seeking asylum. According to the report, the number of claims made by Iraqis (19,500) during the first six months of 2008, was higher than the combined number of asylum petitions submitted by citizens of the Russian Federation (9,400) and China (8,700), the second and third most important source countries.
Posted by Spyridon at 8:21 PM