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Last Updated: Friday, 1 July, 2005, 10:51 GMT 11:51 UK
Iraqi aid worker #2 interview
What follows in an edited transcript of an interview for Panorama with "W", an Iraqi who was taken hostage in his homeland.

OK "W" now if you could tell me what was your work in Baghdad, in Iraq?

I worked in the field of humanitarian work. I began to work for a humanitarian organisation in Iraq, to help the people of Iraq.

What was your job?

We used to work, giving out food and medical supplies and find poor and struggling and needy families in Iraq.

How long had you been doing this job?

I started the job in Iraq a year after the collapse of the old regime. I had finished my education here in Amman, in human rights. I gained an insight in my studies about human rights and about how to develop a society. I was determined to develop my country's potential and help the people of Iraq.

Were you happy in your work? Did you like your work?

Of course I loved that work very much. I hadn't expected to work in a field different from my original studies which were in car mechanics and engineering. But after I worked in humanitarian work and the humanitarian sector, honestly, I felt great joy, and I forgot about my old studies and work.

During that year in which you worked with them, did you feel that you were in any danger, while doing your work, or was everything normal that year?

To be honest there was danger, we used to hear daily of operations of killing or kidnapping which occurred to anyone working with the government or humanitarian organisations. But we were always in a defiant mood. The work we were involved in gave us strong motivation to challenge all these things and to deliver all the love and help we have to our great wounded people who are going through this difficult time.

If you remember that day, 1 January, Could you tell me what you were doing that day? For instance where were you going? And the details, what happened in the first few moments?

We were in a period, we started, we had plans for building infrastructure with the Iraqi government and we had made some agreements with various ministries in the new Iraqi government. Through our work, our second specialisation is child care and visiting schools in Iraq, we were giving presents to children and winter clothes, such as gloves and hats and socks and things like this.

We used to go to buy these things from wholesalers in Baghdad and then we'd wrap them up as presents and give them out. We had a lovely group of young boys and girls who had volunteered to do this job. They were giving us very great help.

On that black day, we went to buy, we bought those things, the presents from a wholesalers in Baghdad, and while we were returning to our office, which is in Baghdad, after we came down the bridge in Al-Amel district, our car was stopped by two cars of a kind similar to the type used by the Iraqi government.

By the way, there has been a mix up in many things in Iraq. One can't tell who is the police and who is the terrorist, everyone uses the same cars. Which one belongs to the government and which to the terrorists? And the clothes they now wear, in their attacks, as terrorists, are also similar to those of the government. Many things have become mixed up.

So when we are stopped at a checkpoint, we don't know if this is on behalf of the government or if the terrorists are carrying out an ambush. So when we give our IDs, we have to decide, either we are done for, or we have been saved. So we used to, to be honest, suffer from this situation. But when we saw them coming out of their cars, their clothes gave us the impression they might have been police officers or security forces. Their faces were covered. But this is something even the police does, and even the national guard, the army, do that, so that they can protect themselves, so that the locals can't recognise them and know that they work in this.

So in truth, we were stopped by two cars which were Nissan make, LandCross, the new Nissan, which is driven by government men now. They stopped us and asked us to come down and show our IDs. After we had seen the cars and the people inside them, we felt encouraged to give our IDs.

So we gave our IDs, and they saw the IDs, and they made come out. They had a barbaric manner, there was violence. They were rougher than what I had seen government men be in similar situations. We were surprised by this. When I saw the way they were treating us I answered back.

I tried to confront them in a manner, I tried to assert myself a little, but I saw that they were rough and full of insults and swearing, so what happened was that they took us and put us into the cars and covered our eyes, and all this, so we couldn't see. There was beating and insults.

The cars drove us for about an hour, or an hour and a half. We didn't know where we were going. They were driving fast, then they would stop. There were bumps in the road. Many things got mixed up for us. We continued on. And then we got out in a place and entered somewhere. We didn't know whether we were coming or going. There were lots of voices talking and many things. We became more and more afraid.

We started bidding life farewell, for the last time. After, I mean, we felt that, maybe at the beginning I was still thinking, they could be the police, they could be the police, or something, let us just arrive to a centre or something but after what we heard and all the insults and bad language, we started to feel that it could be other people. I mean, who have brought us here and arrested us. That they were not the government.

What kind of talk, what were they saying? What did you hear?

Insults and there was bad language and there was, I mean, through their conversation and their style of behaviour with each other, it became clear that they weren't the government or Iraqi security men.

At what moment exactly did you notice, or become certain that they weren't police, that they were terrorists, was there a particular moment, do you remember it?

Yes, exactly, I remember the moment. After they got us to come into the place, I was. After they made us enter the place which was the detention centre, and when we saw the room and its structure, what shape it had. It was built as if from clay or, something. It looked like we were in a farm or a village, or something like that, you see.

So we knew then that these were people who were disguised in the police or government uniform, So things became clearer and clearer and we began to enter into the hours of the last countdown for our lives, we lost hope to tell you the truth, I am talking about myself. I don't know if, but it is possible, I am sure that my friend felt the same, so after that, after what we saw how badly treated we were, we became 100% certain that they weren't the Iraqi govt.

Did they exactly threaten you, in those first hours, that they would kill you? Or was it more a feeling you had and the way they treated you?

Of course threats started and things, about our work - as if to say that we are working with the Americans and we have dealings with Americans. Who are the foreigners with us and who are the Americans? And that we should give them details and information about these things.

But honestly, everything we said, they refused to believe. We were denying strongly and we said we don't have dealings with the Americans, that we have not worked with Americans, we didn't receive any support from Americans, our work is isolated, our work is, we receive support from people with capital from all over the world, who help our organisation so that we can help poor countries and struggling people, but they didn't believe this talk and there was beating and insults and swearing about this.

How did it end this first day? How did it end?

Well honestly, there was a lot of anxiety, we didn't know whether it was day or night, we didn't know what time it was, how it was passing. We were suffering, I don't know how to describe the state we were in. Afterwards they filmed us to make a message they could send to our organisation and they demanded with it the withdrawal of our organisation, the closure of its offices and the sacking of its staff and many things. Basically for it to stop all operations in Iraq. And I think the organisation received this message and they fulfilled all their demands as requested. Yes.

How was this filming day, what, how did you know that you were going to be filmed, where?

We didn't know but they took us, pulling and shoving us. Their way of behaving was all: Come with me! Go with me! Come on! There was beating, beating and stuff like that, there was a moment when we couldn't see faces. When we closed our eyes they uncovered their faces. And when we again opened our eyes, they would have re-covered their faces, so that no one could recognize them.

Whenever they entered the room, I had to cover my eyes, you see. So that I don't recognise any of them, you see, ah. So they took us and filmed us. Their faces were covered, but they uncovered our faces and eyes, so that we can appear to people, so that we could be recognized.

Did they ask you to say something?

Well, we didn't say anything. There was just them, someone who was reading a piece of paper, reading out the message of their group to our organisation or to the people responsible for us and we didn't say anything, and they didn't let us talk.

At the time of the video, did you understand what was happening? Did you understand what they wanted, did you understand the aim of the video? Were you more scared or less?

Honestly, I didn't know, could this thing be to my benefit? I was thinking that maybe if they film us and this was shown, this might make people know that we have been kidnapped and they might start looking for us or something like that. But then I thought, we will have more and more publicity and it is possible that the demand for us, if the demand increased, might slowly make us more expensive, so this thing, I had mixed feelings. In my situation, was this thing in my benefit, or not? I didn't know. I was confused.

What was the worst moment in all those seven days when you were there?

To be honest, the worst moment was when we saw an Iraqi police officer being beheaded in front of us, they wanted to show us how fierce they were and how without mercy they were, and how heartless. So they showed us this person being beheaded in front of us, and he was a police officer. They had sent him a message five or six months ago, something like that, so that he doesn't work, but he continued working with the police, so they captured him and cut his head off and we saw this. It was the strangest thing, the worst thing I saw at the time, honestly,

I don't know, every time I remember those moments when I saw that person, it becomes difficult for me to eat and life becomes very difficult. I was hoping and I was praying that I wouldn't die a death like that, or that I don't die in such an ugly way. I was hoping that I could die in an execution, perhaps a shooting. It would be easier for me, I don't know what to say. That was the most difficult moment I saw.

Did you know what they were going to do or did they just take you out? How?

We didn't know. We were waiting for the hour of death, because with the violence and barbarity with which they were treating us, it was very difficult and especially, as I told you, after we saw that person, the police officer, when he was killed, his head being cut like this, in front of us and then his head thrown to the ground, this was very difficult. So we were waiting for the hour in which we would die, that's what we were thinking, they created in us an incredible fear. Are we going to die in this same way?

This was something terrible. So we were, I'm talking about myself, I was praying, asking God to let me die in a more comfortable way, with bullets, so that I die, not in this ugly way. So we didn't know, that they were going to release us and that we would get out, and what was happening outside. We didn't know about that. But on the morning of the 13th, they released us. And I didn't know if my friend was alive, neither did he know if I was alive or dead.

But after they released us and got us out of the car, there was a moment, when I saw that there was someone with me, near me. After they got us out from the car, they left us on the ground so that we didn't look up or stand up, or anything. When they went and we saw that there was nothing, we sat on the floor, we took off our blindfolds off our eyes and we saw, I saw my friend next to me. It was a very happy moment when I saw him and he saw me too. It was in the morning, around 6 in the morning, something like that.

Were you surprised?

It was very strange. To get out of the grip of people like that, from the hands of such a group, that, at a time when it was very difficult for anyone to get out of their clutches, very difficult indeed.

If you could describe, if you could explain the room you were in, what did it look like, were there sounds, were there smells? What is your feeling when you think about it, the room, what was its size, was there any furniture in it, anything you can remember about it?

The room I was in was empty, there was nothing in it, and it was built like from clay, clay ..there were smells, those of a farm, there was a smell of animals and sounds, there was the sound of cows. We were in an area, we knew it was an agricultural area, it seemed like it was an agricultural area, and there was in this area, there were lots of voices talking, even sometimes I was asking myself am I in a dream or in reality? Was I dreaming of this place? Was I experiencing a dream? I was shaking myself, shaking my head. I wanted to wake up from this dream.

But I was living a reality. It was a reality. This reality I was witnessing. I was thinking, maybe I'm having a dream, with something in it, with some reality in it. But what I sensed was that no, this was all reality 100%. And there were lots of voices, there was fear. First of all, there were sounds of beatings shooting, nearby, there were sounds of aeroplanes, aeroplanes flying, roaming above us, as if the place was being observed or targeted, or a known place for people like that and groups. So I felt that we might be struck any minute, this is the kind of place which gets bombed usually. There were loud noises.

According to what I heard, that there were lots of news broadcasts as if there were more than one station playing all at once, the sounds of many news stations and people talking, coming in and out. I didn't know where we were, in an official office or something, yes.

The people who were talking were not just speaking Iraqi, we heard other than Iraqis speaking, we heard something like the Palestinian language and others like Syrian, something like, something Arabic, like Saudi, other than the Iraqi, we heard that people were talking together in these languages

Seven days when one doesn't know what's going to happen to them, are long days, how did you spend the time, there was nothing you could do sitting in a room. how does one spend the time, what did you think?

To be honest, I was thinking. Many things occurred to me, I thought of them a lot. I was sometimes, blaming myself that I worked in such a job, because no body deserves something like this. I'm talking about myself. Other times, I was thinking no I didn't do anything wrong, I was doing the very right thing, and the reasonable thing. But there are people who reason differently. There are people who don't understand and there are people who do understand.

So I was sometimes examining myself, thinking that I had only hours, minutes. I didn't know how much I had before I would die or my life would end, so I was thinking that I might have made mistakes with some people and that I should've apologized to them before this happened to me, that I should apologise to them, ask for their forgiveness. But I was thinking that maybe it was too late.

I was examining myself, many times. I needed to examine myself and ask god if there were debts I hadn't fulfilled and I was always feeling that it was too late. In myself inside me I was asking God to support me in those difficult times I was going through.

He was asking whether there was anything you were doing to help you pass the days, like sports, or, I don't know what you could have done in a room on your own. Was there anything you did, prayer or anything?

I was praying, to tell you the truth, I was praying.

I wanted. I wanted something to get me out of this. I thought enough! Either I live or I get out. I wanted a resolution! I was very tired of that place and of the situation between those four walls, one door and a tiny little window above. I didn't know what was going to happen in the coming hours, so I sat and prayed.

I asked God: "Please help me in this, help me in these moments." But even my prayer had no real hope in it. I had given up. Because I had doubts. I thought that maybe God will not help me.

Sometimes I had more confidence that God would be on my side and would help me. Other times this hope would diminish and diminish. No maybe he will not help me, maybe this is my end. So I didn't know how to keep myself busy or how to spend the time. It was very difficult. I wouldn't ever wish it even on my enemy. I wouldn't wish my enemy to have to witness the things I have seen.

Was there anything in those seven days, was there a moment, did they say something or was there something in the way they treated you or anything which gave you the feeling that they might release you? Was there any hope at all, or did you think, "that's it." all the time?

In the news which we used to watch in Iraq, those who got captured by them never got out. It's very rare that someone gets out, from the clutches of people like that. And especially there are different types of groups. Groups like them are very strict and whoever comes into their grasp, never gets out. So we had lost hope in life. But how we returned to life, how we came back, that was the thing which was, I mean, I call it a miracle, a divine miracle.

And who were this group? Did you understand from them or from their talk, did you understand who they might be?

There is, maybe they are people or a group who have their own point of view and they want this opinion to rule and to be imposed on the entire country or everywhere even. They want their opinion to rule the day and they want to impose every belief or every faith or anything they have which is private to them, they want to impose it everywhere. They want to dictate our work, our lives and they want to dictate our ways of worship, how we practice our rituals, and everything we have. Even political life. But I don't know what to call them. I don't know what to call people like that. I don't know.

Did they seem more like religious groups or Ba'athist groups or both or what?

They were a mixture to tell you the truth, they were a mixture. According to my knowledge, they are a mixture. Religious groups with Ba'athist groups, from the previous regime. As well as groups who want to make money. They have all united. Also criminals groups who were in prisons. After the end of the previous Iraqi regime, you know, they had released 197,000 prisoners.

There was an operation of emptying or 'whitening' prisons and this was intentional. So after those people got out, they wanted to work, but the country was in a bad economic state so they resorted to thing like this. I behead this person and kill this person in return for 200 dollars and so on and so forth. And they have joined forces with groups like these. So it all became a mixture, from religious, to political to intelligence officers and many things, yes.

And from their talk, did you understand what was the faith which they want to impose over the country? What do they want to occur in the country?

I understood to tell you the truth that they want, first of all, they want, first of all, that their faith dominates. I realised this during a period of time. Not only during those seven days which I spent there. But during the period after the collapse of the old regime. Outside foreign groups entered the country, groups were established. There was also a rise in Iraqi groups. They all joined together.

It seemed to me that these groups, want that a specific religion and a specific sect is imposed, and one opinion and ideology. They want to establish what that is and they want to impose it on everyone, on the majorities, on the minorities, on everyone. This must be imposed. Either this, or I won't leave you and with a weapon I will exterminate you. So by force, they want to impose everything by force.

Politically, of course, they want to control the situation. They want the political arena to mirror everything they believe in or what their religious laws dictate.

If you could tell me about your family. How did they discover you had been kidnapped and what did they do?

When I didn't come back home, my parents were worried about me. Normally everyday, after work and seeing people, I come back home. What happened was that on that day, I didn't return home and they started worrying about me.

Of course first of all they wondered whether I might be at a friend's or visiting someone or something like that. But then the night came, I didn't return, so they started getting anxious. The next day came. And the one who suffered the most was my mother of course. Of course she was suffering and was thinking about me a lot.

So then the next day they went to check at my work place to see what happened, but the place was closed. My brother went to see the brother of my friend who had been kidnapped with me. He asked him if he had seen me or seen his brother. So he said that his brother had also not returned. Because in fact we were always together, me and my friend. We had been friends for 12 or 13 years. Either he'd be at my place or I'd be at his, usually. So when my brother realised that my friend's brother was also looking for us, both of them started looking for us together.

They looked for two days and visited our office in Baghdad various times. Finally, they saw a letter near the office's second entrance. My brother jumped over the fence and took the letter which was left there. He saw then that it was a letter from the group who had kidnapped us, saying that... And there was a cassette, a small video recording which spelled out their demands, in return for releasing us and saving our lives. After they read my name and my friend's name, they knew that we had been kidnapped.

How did they watch the video? What did they do with it?

To tell you the truth they weren't able to watch the video. It was difficult because they didn't own a video camera with which to watch it. And during that period also they were sacred because maybe if they showed the video to someone, they might take it, or maybe something will happen. And if they gave it to the government they might not give it back. They might need it. There were lots of questions. I don't know how they coped with that time. I have no idea.

You left Iraq on January 13th. Could you tell me how you left Iraq and why? which day and how? How did you decide to leave Iraq?

After we our release, first of all we couldn't believe that we were going to have our freedom back. And after our parents saw us, though there was a lot of joy, but they also blamed us. They started blaming me for working in this job, and they said: "We warned you many times, this is a dangerous thing. You shouldn't work in this." And many things.

They said to me that maybe it would be better for me to get away from this explosive situation, so that they can have some peace of mind and not worry about me. "You must leave Iraq." They said. There was also a message afterwards from the group stating that we must leave the country within 72 hours and that they must never see us again. Because they thought that perhaps if we remained in the country, we would continue our work.

Even at the time I thought that maybe we could stay in the country but stop doing this work, because they had said: "if we see you doing this again, you and your families will die, with explosives. We will even bomb your houses." So after this, we contacted our regional manager who is based in Jordan and we spoke to him about the matter. He was also happy that we had been released. After that we took the first available flight. We were a bit late in leaving to tell you the truth.

We were afraid. We only had 72 hours in which to get out but we were delayed until the 18th. We left on the 18th instead of the 13th. That was difficult. Even when we were moving around town. All international calls were quite difficult, lines were out of order. So we used to go out in two cars with ten people with me from my family, and armed people. It was very difficult.

This message with the 72 hour limit, did they give it to you personally or how?

They didn't give it to us personally, but they said it verbally: "We don't want to see you in the country."

Now that four months have passed since the incident, how do you feel?

To tell you the truth, every time I remember what happened I feel as if this incident is now living within me, is inside me everyday. Every time I turn on the news and hear about Iraq to know what's happening to the present government, what's happening in the Iraqi arena. Has a government been formed? And always there are also news about new kidnappings or killings. Every time I hear this news, I remember the people or the groups who did these things to us, and the violence. This has become imprinted in me.

It's true that when I first came out I was in a very delicate psychological condition, and I had psychotherapy in the first days. Afterwards I felt better and I adapted to the new situation, away from gun shots and explosions. So I felt better. But still it is difficult for me to forget what I saw.

While you were imprisoned, you were thinking that there were people who you maybe wanted to apologise to, so when you came out did you have a chance to do so?

When I was released, I saw a huge amount of people. People were coming to our house in floods, you see. It made me unbelievably happy to see all these people around me, my family and all my people around me and near me so it made me very happy.

And at the same time I began to greet everybody with great warmth and I was also apologising to anyone saying I am sorry if I have ever done anything wrong to you, please forgive me. And maybe I will have to leave the country and so on and so forth. And so there were tears on both sides. They were special moments. They were saying no it's not you who should apologise, it's us. So it was like that.

Do you know any friends of yours or a family who have gone through the same thing? Is this type of incident widespread now?

We used to rarely hear about kidnappings before. After the collapse of the old regime we would hear about the assassination of an official or a political figure, or someone well known. But now it has turned into a business in Iraq. Now they kidnap the children of rich people in Iraq and they return them for high sums of money.

So we hear every now and then that someone's son has been kidnapped and this person's son has disappeared. Many of our friends' children have been kidnapped and demands were made for huge sums of money. Some of them had to sell their houses and their cars and give lots of money before they could get the kids back.

As everyone knows, at the moment neither the Iraqi government, nor the Iraqi army or private forces are able to establish the necessary security, in the country. This is due to outside interventions.

How will these operations affect Iraq in your opinion? Now you have left, others are leaving. What's the impact?

What I have observed in the last period is a deliberate operation to expel the Iraqi people from their own land. If we look at the countries neighbouring to Iraq, we find that they are bursting with Iraqi families, and especially families who belong to minorities. Since the minorities are weak and unable to confront these powerful armed groups, so the best solution is for them to leave the country and everything in it and get out of Iraq.

We find then that the countries neighbouring to Iraq are now full of people who are actually emigrating. Whether the immigration is legal or illegal it doesn't matter as long as they get out of the country. And as we know, once these people leave, it would be difficult for them to come back, because they adapt and start living under different circumstances. And this will have negative consequences for the country.

Is there already an impact on the rebuilding of the country due to all these people leaving?

Of course. It is noticeable that during the previous regime there was a big brain drain. There was a haemorrhaging of talents away from Iraq. They left and lived long lives in exile. Some of them have now returned to Iraq to rebuild the country, but some of them are still waiting for security and stability to reign before they return. But the Iraqi situation now is full of destruction.

It is very difficult for many people to come back. In fact we find that many people are leaving. This of course has a negative effect on rebuilding the country, economically, socially, on every sphere of life.

And do you ever consider returning if the situation calms down? What are your future plans?

Some might laugh to hear what my thoughts are. To tell you the truth, I want to return again and do the same work, in the same field, which is humanitarian work. Because my country is needy, and there are many needy and poor and struggling families. I dream of working for my country for free, for the sake of my country, the children of my country and my people. I want to give every help and all the energy and I have to my country and towards rebuilding it.

Even if I am now living outside the country, in fact I live with it hour by hour, inside me. And I follow each and every news broadcast about it.


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