One Iraqi Family’s Struggle amid Chaos

Amid the mainstream U.S. media’s focus on Syria, the ongoing U.S.-provoked humanitarian crisis in Iraq gets little attention as victims of the post-invasion chaos still suffer, Cathy Breen reports.

By Cathy Breen

I’ve written often about our Iraqi refugee friend and his oldest son from Baghdad. I will call them Mohammed and Ahmed. They made the torturous flight last year from Baghdad to Kurdistan and then across Turkey. They were on three Greek islands before permission was granted them to continue their trip. They passed through several countries at the time the borders were being closed. They arrived finally at their destination in late September 2015. Finland.

Having lived with this family in Baghdad, I have the faces of the wife and each of the children before me.

Iraqi children caught in the ongoing chaos of Iraq. (Photo credit: Cathy Breen)

Mohammed’s children, caught in the ongoing chaos of Iraq. (Photo credit: Cathy Breen)

Generally, I use Mohammed’s words, quoting him in a first person narrative. He told the story of their desperate life-threatening journey over a year ago. They went to Finland with the hope that fewer refugees would travel so far, that they would get asylum quicker and be reunited with their family, Mohammed’s wife and the other six children in Iraq.

Together with a small group of friends, Kathy Kelly and I were able to visit them in Finland in the deep winter cold this past January. We were able to bring them for a few days from the camp to Helsinki where they were warmly received by many Finnish people involved in the peace movement, journalists among them.

In late June Mohammed wrote us about the depression and frustration among refugees in their camp as many of them were getting rejected for asylum. He wrote that even Iraqi refugees from Fallujah, Ramadi and Mosul were getting rejections. “I don’t know what I will do if I get a bad answer. For the last three weeks only bad answers are coming.” Then in late July came the crushing news that his own case had been denied.

“Today I got the immigration decision that my case was rejected. Me and Ahmed are not welcomed to Finland. Thanks for everything you did.” The next day he wrote again. “Today is one of the heaviest days of my life. Everybody, my son, my cousin and myself….we just kept silent. We are shocked from the decision. Losing my brother, jailed for 2 years, kidnapped, tortured, losing my house, parents, father-in-law, death threat letter and assassination attempt. Over 50 relatives killed. What more must I give them for them to believe me? Only one thing I forgot, to submit my death certificate. I feel I am being slaughtered. I don’t know what to tell my wife and children [in Baghdad].”

We have since learned that Finland is granting residency to only 10 percent of asylum seekers. An appeal is in progress, and several people have written letters on Mohammed’s behalf. It is by no means clear however that his request will be accepted.

In the meantime, the situation in Iraq and in Baghdad continues to worsen in terms of daily explosions, suicide bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, ISIS, police, army and militia activity. His wife lives in a particularly open and vulnerable rural area. His brother, who used to live a stone’s throw away, had to flee with his family several months ago due to death threats. This left Mohammed’s wife and children without protection.

During Ramadan Mohammed wrote: “The situation is really terrible during these days. My wife was planning to take the kids to her mother’s village during EID but she cancelled this idea.”

The U.S. military's "shock and awe" bombing of Baghdad at the start of the Iraq War, as broadcast on CNN.

The U.S. military’s “shock and awe” bombing of Baghdad at the start of the Iraq War, as broadcast on CNN.

On another occasion he wrote, “My wife is very worried about our second oldest son, afraid he will be kidnapped. She is thinking of moving from the village. Today we argued very hard as she blames me, telling me that I said we would be reunited within 6 months.”

On two recent occasions armed uniformed men came to Mohammed’s house seeking information about Mohammed and Ahmed. Mohammed wrote: “Yesterday at 5 a.m. the house was raided by armed official military guys in uniforms. Maybe the police? Maybe the militia or ISIS?”

It is hard to imagine the fright of Mohammed’s defenseless wife and the children, the youngest of whom is only 3 years old. It is hard to imagine Mohammed and Ahmed’s fright being so far away. At times Mohammed’s wife has hidden the oldest boy in the reeds by their house, afraid he will be recruited by force by ISIS or the militia! She has also been afraid to send the children to school because the security situation is so dangerous. She is angry at Mohammed, scared and not understanding why they have not been reunited after a year’s time.

Recently Mohammed emailed: “Honestly, Cathy, every night I am thinking of returning home and ending these arguments. Living away from your beloved kids is really hard. If I get killed alongside of my family, then everyone will understand why we had to leave and the arguments will finish. Even the Finnish immigration will understand that what I told them was true. But the next morning I changed my mind and decided to await the court’s final decision.”

“Every night I am afraid from the next morning’s news from my family. My daughter asked me by phone last week ‘Dad, when can we live together again. I am now 14 years and you have been away so long.’ She broke my heart.”

Just a few days ago he wrote: “I’m so happy because the ice has melted between my wife and I.” His little boy, 6 years, and his youngest daughter 8 years went to school today. My wife is so brave…. She decided to pay for a school bus for all of the kids. She said ‘I believe in God and I am sending the children and taking the risk.'”

I often ask myself how Mohammed gets up in the morning. How are he and his wife able to face the day? Their courage, their faith and their resilience inspires me, challenges me and pushes me to get out of my own bed in the morning.

Cathy Breen ([email protected]), lives and works at Maryhouse Catholic Worker in New York City. She is also co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

5 comments for “One Iraqi Family’s Struggle amid Chaos

  1. October 25, 2016 at 05:23

    Unfortunately, the purpose of the US State Department is to wreak havoc on this world and on as many people as possible.

  2. Bill Bodden
    October 23, 2016 at 12:21

    In this instance the discussion refers to only one family. How many families have had their lives destroyed as a consequence of the war on Iraq? How many are still being destroyed? The answer is apparently in the millions, and the principal villains are still walking free – in some instances promoting new wars. Several months ago I heard Donna Brazile, new chair of the Democratic National Committee, say of Condoleezza Rice that she (CR) was a friend of hers and that she had a lot of respect for her. That is the same Condoleezza Rice of the “smoking guns” and “mushroom clouds” fearmongering to get the Iraq war going. Now Ms. Brazile is working to elect Hillary Clinton to be warmonger-in-chief.

    As that other war-facilitator, Colin Powell, said, “If you break it, you own it.” Well, the United States and the United Kingdom broke Iraq and we now “own” it. So let’s live up to our responsibilities and help the victims. First thing first: Funding: Take it out of the Pentagon’s budget. Next set up camps where there is lots of land. First choices: Dubya’s and Dick Cheney’s ranches.


    • Joe Tedesky
      October 23, 2016 at 21:21

      Bill, I agree these leaders we have in our country all drink from the same well. I wish more essays and news segments would devote some quality time to tell the stories of these poor souls who we have uprooted from they’re once peaceful lives, and now due to our country’s quest for global hegemony these same poor souls have been thrown into the depths of a empty endless life of despair. I mean here I sit in the comfort of my home while these refugees struggle to just make sense of it all. We Americans aren’t necessarily bad people as much as we are an ill informed lot. The best part comes when these people at the top, like the ones you referenced in your comment, come on TV and start with their nonsense of how our great nation is spreading democracy through out this liberty deprived world, and us Americans buy that bull from them every time they say it. If only there was at least one big media outlet, who would report the news as it is reported here on this site, then all sorts of switches could be tripped to turn the American people on to such travesties that exist because of our Neocon adventures. I would only hope that with more knowledge the American people would rise to the occasion, and put an end to this evil madness.

  3. evelync
    October 23, 2016 at 11:48

    Unbelievable what was unleashed by Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld under false pretenses, authorized by the complicit Senate (their vote for the AUMF), continued through their 8 years of horror and then 8 more years under Obama/Biden and will apparently go on under the next administration.

    I saw GWB in a documentary the other day still hinting (complaining) that he hopes future historians will redeem his administration for what are currently viewed as war crimes.

    Thank you for writing this.

    • Bill Bodden
      October 23, 2016 at 14:36

      Many knowledgeable observers predicted the Iraq war would destabilize the region. I wonder how many suspected it would be as disastrous as it has become.

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