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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 September 2005, 10:27 GMT 11:27 UK
Iran-Iraq war: Iraqi women's stories
The Iran-Iraq war, which began 25 years ago, lives on in the memories of citizens of both countries.

For many who were directly affected by the war, it remains a painful part of their daily lives.

Hundreds of thousands of men were killed or remain missing. Here three Iraqi women who spoke to BBCArabic.com talk about the void left in their lives by the men who did not return.

HANAA HASSAN ALI (UMM AHMED), BAGHDAD, IRAQ

Sami Mohammad Jassem and Hanaa Hassan Ali
Hanaa's husband, Sami, died during the third year of the war
One sad Iraqi morning I woke up to the sound of knocking on our metal doors.

They were unusual knocks, still very much alive in my memory. I feared what was to come.

I headed to the door and found two men in military uniform.

They asked me if this was the house of Sami Mohammad Jassem and if I was his wife. I said yes.

They then told me that my husband had the honour of being martyred in the battle of Sharq al-Dajeel.

They requested that I come quietly with another family member to take the body from a nearby centre.

It was the shock of my life, and I lost control and fell unconscious. We had only been married for two years, during which I had two children.

The sorrow, grief and anger I felt were without bounds. Why should someone like Sami die? Why should my children and I be left like that without anyone to support us?

I was a young wife full of hopes and dreams, and I became a widow
Our government compensated the children and wives of martyrs with a piece of land or money to build a house, but unfortunately that was not enough and I couldn't find a job with my university degree.

I did not want to part with my children even for a minute, as they are everything to me after I lost their father.

I searched my thoughts for something I could do, and I remembered I knew how to operate a sewing machine.

I thought I would work from home as a dressmaker until I could find a job in the public sector to raise my children.

Twenty two years have passed and here I am, still battling with my sorrowful and stubborn sewing machine.

But I have found it more giving and supportive than the government or society which my dear husband died defending.

I was a young wife full of hopes and dreams, and I became a widow known as Umm Ahmed (mother of Ahmed), the dressmaker, full of bitterness and fearful of the future, with only one concern - making my children happy and helping them go through their education.

I was a mother and father at once, because my children needed a mother's tenderness and a father's firmness.

From that simple machine I managed to open a dressmaker's shop.

Finally, my eldest son Ahmed got married. Thus life treats me better and I am full of hope that the new Iraqi government will look at the families of the martyrs and those lost, and find a way to help their children find a decent job.

UMM OMAR, BAGHDAD, IRAQ

Umm Omar, Mohammad Chukri Mahmood and family
The family of Mohammad Mahmood always hoped he would return
My husband Mohammad Chukri Mahmood went missing in the battle of Nahr Jassem in Basra in 1987.

He was an officer in the engineering unit, in his thirties.

His main job was maintenance for the planes, but in that cursed year he was called upon to fight in the frontlines of that battle, and he went missing. We haven't heard from him since.

I was worried sick during the battle, and I had a hunch something unusual would happen to us.

I waited as weeks and months went by and we heard nothing. He didn't come back. We knew then that he was lost, but we didn't lose hope that he was alive.

Years went by and my two children grew up.

One day while I was in a nearby market with my eldest son Omar we were stopped by a middle-aged man who said he was a prisoner in the Iran war, and that among the prisoners who were with him there was an Abu Omar (father of Omar) who looked a lot like my son.

My wish is to find him alive, so we can make up for the years we lost. I am still waiting
He added that my husband was badly wounded in his foot before being taken captive but that he was alive and that was the last time he saw him.

I was overjoyed, and the hope inside me came back to life. I thought maybe he would call. But unfortunately I haven't heard from him.

Afterwards, I went through the worst possible financial and moral suffering, and never received the full rights I was entitled to from the government. All I got was a handful of cash.

I was forced to work from home to raise my children, and I started by buying and selling some of the basics so I could pay the rent. No one in my family could help me. They are all simple people.

I have had many opportunities to remarry, and my parents always remind me that I am still young and entitled by Sharia law to remarry. But I refused in the hope that Abu Omar would one day return.

Our relationship with each other was never ordinary. Ours was a pure, endless love, and the emotional strength binding us is hard to forget or ignore.

But my loneliness eats away at me day after day, and the responsibilities of raising children amid the cruelty of life in Iraq is no easy matter.

The most painful thing for me is the message my husband sent us before he was lost, saying he dreams of seeing us again soon and that he couldn't stand being so far away.

My wish is to find him alive, so we can make up for the years we lost. I am still waiting.

OROOBA OMAR, BAGHDAD, IRAQ

Tarek Mazloum Othman
Tarek was conscripted into the army after failing his exams
My husband's brother Tarek Mazloum Othman was 17 when he was lost in one of the Iraq-Iran battles in 1985.

My husband had a special relationship with his younger brother. Their mother died when Tarek was still very young, and my husband was like a father to him.

Tarek was a good-hearted boy and had no political leanings. He was more interested in football and music.

In 1985 Tarek was called upon to serve in the army after failing his exams. Back then students who failed their final exam in the intermediate level had to serve in the army.

After less than one month of military training Tarek was moved to the frontlines in what proved to be one of the toughest years of the war. That year the battle of Taj al-Maarek claimed the lives of thousands of young men from both sides.

We do not know the exact fate of Tarek. All we know is that he didn't return from that battle.

We started asking about him among his unit and we were told that they had no information. We asked his friends, and they said he was probably taken captive during the battle.

We wanted to believe it, despite the tangible possibility that he had died.

We did not receive a corpse or even a document proving he was martyred or imprisoned until more than two years had passed.

The spectre of Tarek dying has never left us, clouding all our days, happy or sad, for the past 20 years
Then we received a note saying Tarek could have been either killed or imprisoned in the land of the enemy, so they decided to consider him missing.

The spectre of Tarek dying has never left us, clouding all our days, happy or sad, for the past 20 years.

My husband went through the bitterness and pain of losing his younger brother and I suffered as I watched his pain and saw him waiting and crying every time Tarek's name was mentioned.

We still have hope that he will return and we have refused to receive condolences.

When thousands of Iraqi prisoners returned at the end of the war we would always go to the border areas to receive the trucks that transported the prisoners into Iraq, but unfortunately we were disappointed every time, until we once asked one of the returning prisoners if he had seen him or heard anything about him.

Someone said that he believed Tarek was alive and gave us a description which matched him.

He said that Tarek was taken prisoner and is still in Iran, and that sooner or later he will return.

That is what we always remind ourselves. Sooner or later he will come back to us.


The following comments reflect the balance of views received:

These heart-wrenching stories are true and could be seen everywhere around the world where there is war. However, the saddest thing is not knowing what happened to these lost men. The hope that they are still alive lives on within the families - which only prevents them from moving on had they been able to accept their death and been able to give their loved ones a proper burial.
Esra Karatash Alpay, Istanbul, Turkey

If only the leaders of wars, armies and governments actually sent their own selves or family members to the frontlines... It is only then that they could possibly relate to what those victims and their loved ones go through. Maybe Saddam should have taken a stroll down the frontlines during the Iraq Iran war (which was largely unjustified). Maybe then he would have come face to face with his own horrors. Maybe Bush and Blair should take a stroll down some street in Baghdad or Basra.
Jacqueline, San Francisco, CA

There are countless Iranian wives and sons and daughters who lost husbands and fathers defending themselves against the Iraqi invasion. Please tell their stories.
Anonymous, UK

I was very young when the war broke out. I feel pain and sorrow when I read the stories of those who lost their loved ones. The war was the human tragedy of the century next to WW2 and devastated the life of many millions of people from both Iran and Iraq. I am from town of Khoramshahar and we lost everything we had when the Iraqi army invaded the town. I am grateful that there was no loss of life in our family, although I know of distant family and friends who lost loved ones. I hope that never again will our two countries experience such a painful and dreadful time and I wish the Iraqi people could overcome the brutality that is happening nowadays and live in peace.
Mohsen Karami, Khramshahar, Iran

These stories are all very heartbreaking and sad. We Iranians on the other side also have tragic stories to share. One thing we Iraqis and Iranians know well is the fact that we are historically and culturally connected and we in fact like each other very much. We should blame the powers who started this war to gain from and make sure no other government from the West would ever use us in that way.
Pardis, Tehran, Iran

I am an Iranian and it saddens me to read of the experiences that Iraqis went through. There are many Iranians with similar stories. It truly shows that in war there is no winning side. Everyone loses in war. Hopefully with the removal of Saddam Hussein, Iranians and Iraqis can look back and mourn this tragic time in our history together and build bridges so never again will we have such an incident.
Sultan Mehrabi, Raleigh, USA




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17 Jul 05 |  Middle East

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