By Carles Grau Sivera
Baghdad (EFE).- When Abu Hasan Ali saw American troops enter Baghdad in April 2003, he thought Saddam Hussein’s tyranny would be over within 24 hours and Iraq would be free.
But the bombing of the Iraqi capital by the United States military pulverized his left arm and his hopes for a better life.
“I thought that my injury was the price to pay for freedom, because freedom always comes at a cost,” Abu Hasan, 64, tells Efe from his graphic design studio in central Baghdad.
“I suffered from my injury for two years, and in the end we learned that we had been very wrong.”
He is one of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who were injured by the US-led international coalition during the invasion of Iraq, an event that 20 years on remains etched into the minds — and bodies — of the country’s citizens.
Abu Hasan remembers the events of April 6, 2003, in vivid detail. He went out to watch the columns of US armored vehicles drive down the road linking the city with its international airport.
“I saw an American vehicle with the number 121 which turned its gun towards me and, all of a sudden, I found myself under a wall with my arm broken” he tells Efe. His arm was shattered when the wall came down on top of him.
Other wounds run deeper, he adds, and still course through his blood.
“After 20 years, I feel so much shame for believing that the US troops came to liberate us. The Americans told us a big lie, they occupied and destroyed Iraq, leaving thousands of Iraqi victims,” he says.
SHOT IN COLD BLOOD
On an October morning in 2004, Hussein Ali, a 66-year-old Iraqi whose name has been changed on request, got into his van and embarked on a perilous journey to find food for his family. He did not return home that day.
After the fall of Baghdad, US troops closed down the city’s main highways and installed checkpoints. At one of the checkpoints, a soldier opened fire on Hussein Ali with a high-caliber weapon. The bullet hit his thigh but also perforated his stomach. It almost killed him.
“I think they shot at me because they didn’t know what I was doing, they thought I was a suicide bomber because it was at night and I was alone in my car,” he tells Efe from his home in the south of Baghdad.
After searching his car and finding no indication of there being explosives, the Americans took Hussein Ali to the nearest hospital.
“The doctors said I had a 1% chance of survival,” he says, adding that he spent 45 days in the hospital and that his body is riddled with scars.
Shrapnel that lodged in his hand has fused with his skin, creating a bobbly surface reminiscent of Braille.
“Is this what they call freedom and respect for human rights?” he asks.
A YEAR IN US CUSTODY
The US forces also inflicted psychological scars on the Iraqis who were detained during the occupation.
Like many others, Yasser, 42, was optimistic during the early days of the invasion and thanks to his knowledge of English he worked with US troops for several months as a translator at a time when Washington was trying to rebuild an Iraqi army from the ashes of Saddam Hussein’s administration.
The violence of the situation in Iraq prompted Yasser to flee to Dubai, but in 2007 he returned to his hometown of Dhuluʿiya, to the north of the capital, to be with his family.
At the time, Dhuluʿiya was considered a ‘red zone’ by the US and on April 26, 2007, soldiers from the international coalition searched all the houses in the town and took Yasser, he tells Efe.
“They checked house by house and I speak with them in English in order to make them friend. But this was the biggest issue, when they found me speaking English they said ‘OK, you will go with us for a few days and then we will release you, we just have some questions nothing else’,” he tells Efe.
Yasser was held for one year by the US military, spending time in various prisons in Iraq.
He said the detainees were forced to remove their clothes and shower in front of the US troops, and that loud music was blasted into the cells to psychologically destabilize the inmates.
Yasser was eventually freed after being interrogated in detention centers in Baghdad and Basra.
To this day, he does not know why he was held captive. EFE