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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 May, 2003, 23:22 GMT 00:22 UK
My war: The Iraqi exile
Dr Sherzad Al-Khalifa was forced to leave Iraq for the UK in 1973 but has followed the country's fate closely ever since. Most of his family remain in Baghdad and he longs for the chance to return.

It was a hot August afternoon in 1973 when I left Iraq for the last time. I remember my mother telling me to go and live abroad and do not come back.

It was her way of saying leave now before you get arrested, tortured and killed by Saddam Hussein's brutal regime.

We are originally from Kirkuk, the Kurdish city in the north, where my father was an army general. When Saddam came to power all the Kurdish officers were removed and we were forced to leave our home town.

I am planning to go as soon as civilian planes start to go to Baghdad, to visit my family who I have been deprived of all those long years
Dr Sherzad Al-Khalifa
We went to Baghdad where I went to university and became heavily involved in the opposition movement. It was very dangerous to protest at that time and one day I was told that my name was on a wanted list so I had to get out and never go back.

I came to the UK where I continued my studies and got a job at Warwick University. During all the years I have been away from Iraq, I have spent time every day reading or listening to the news, just in case there is a hint of news from home. When you are exiled, you never forget your roots.

After the 1991 war I travelled to Kurdistan to meet my brother and sister who had come from Baghdad through many dangerous Iraqi army checkpoints.

Tearful reunion

When I crossed the long bridge between Turkey and Kurdistan on foot to meet them I was crying uncontrollably. It was an extremely emotional meeting after more that 18 years but sadly my father was unable to come.

When this last war started I thought excitedly that I was going to be able to see him after 27 years of forced exile. I was very worried about my family in Baghdad of course but like so many Iraqis I was hoping that the criminal regime in Iraq would be crushed.

Baghdad's telephone lines went down two days after the start of the war. I was lucky and spoke to my brother that day and he reported that morale was high and said "Hopefully we will see you soon".

Sadly, my father died on the day that American tanks rolled into Baghdad and I lost my long-held hope of ever seeing him again.

We have had other bad news. A good friend of mine was arrested in 1990. We suspected he had been killed but had no proof but they found his name and number in one of the mass graves just last week.

I am planning to go as soon as civilian planes start to go to Baghdad airport to visit my family who I have been deprived of all those long years.

I will visit the graves of my mother and father and mourn and grieve properly.


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