Transcript

Once Upon A Time In Iraq

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WALEED NESYIF:

Now, what are your preferences with regards to vaping or not? Do you—

MALE INTERVIEWER:

Whatever you want to do, yeah. Whatever makes you feel more at home.

WALEED NESYIF:

Yeah? Thank you.

UM QUSAY:

[Laughter] [Speaking Arabic] I didn’t flinch, I’m not scared. Even ISIS couldn’t scare me. [Laughs]

UM IBRAHIM:

[Speaking Arabic] I hope you will get everything you want. I’m happy because someone is listening to me. We went through so much oppression, but no one listened.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil. Terrorists, hatred, dangerous regimes, weapons of mass destruction, evil—and it must be opposed.

NARRATOR:

This is the story of the war in Iraq, told by Iraqis who lived through it.

AHMED ALBASHEER:

I was very happy to see them at that time, like, "Hi! I can speak English!" [Laughs]

NARRATOR:

These are their personal accounts and lasting memories of the invasion of their country and the 17 years of chaos that followed.

IBRAHIM AL-RAWI:

[Speaking Arabic] What would you do if someone tried to break into your house? Would you sit and watch, or would you resist?

SALLY MARS:

[Speaking Arabic] I was 6 years old at the time.

ALAA ADEL:

[Speaking Arabic] This is the first time that I've spoken about what happened to me.

ALI HUSSEIN KADHIM:

[Speaking Arabic] When I see myself, it all comes back to me, how I survived.

AHMAD AL-MATYOUTI:

[Speaking Arabic] If I'm released from prison, I would never join ISIS again.

OMAR MOHAMMED:

It’s very dangerous to forget, because memory all is what's left for us.

 

CHAPTER ONE

I thought Saddam was my grandfather

Baghdad

Four weeks before the war

 

MALE VOICE:

OK, New York, we're starting the show. Five, four, three, two, one—

VANESSA RAE, TV Host:

Hi, and welcome. I am Vanessa Rae, and today we're participating in a historic discussion between the young people of two countries on the brink of war.

New York

VANESSA RAE:

Let’s everyone in New York say "hi" to everyone over in Baghdad.

NEW YORK STUDIO AUDIENCE:

Hi!

Baghdad

VANESSA RAE:

And if you guys could say "hi" back to us, just so we know that you saw us.

BAGHDAD STUDIO AUDIENCE:

Hi!

WALEED NESYIF:

Hi, people of America!

It’s very weird looking at yourself as a young man. I think I was 18 years old at that time. I mean, am I wrong, or did I sound like Borat?

Waleed Nesyif

WALEED NESYIF:

You know, it's like—I don't know, it's like, "Hello, people of America!" [Laughs]

WOMAN IN BAGHDAD STUDIO AUDIENCE:

I'm generally interested in computers, and I like internet, I like email and all this stuff.

WALEED NESYIF:

Let’s live a happy life and let’s rock ’n’ roll. You know, I love rock a lot. Listen for some Metallica, it will help you.

VANESSA RAE:

Let’s take a little bit more of an in-depth look with this first video from Waleed, who as we all know by now is a rocker. Let’s check it out.

WALEED NESYIF:

So, I formed this little group, and we were the only heavy metal band in Iraq.

I was infatuated with the West. I wanted everything that was Western. I wanted the blue jeans, I wanted the skateboards, I wanted the headphones. I wanted all of these things that I grew up watching. And that’s how I learned English—it was from movies and songs.

It’s a cool place, but it’s a fake McDonald's. We thought it's a real McDonald's, and the first moment that we saw it we thought, "Ahh, we have McDonald's here in Iraq!" But this is not McDonald's stuff.

MALE SPEAKER:

There are two girls, very beautiful girls, they are sitting there—

WALEED NESYIF:

I hadn’t met that many Americans at that time, but there are so many things about America that we appreciate, we like, we want. So, when I hear statements like, "They hate our freedom and our democracy," it's like, no, we actually love it! We fricking love it! That’s all we wanted.

When we started hearing the murmurs that we are about to be invaded, I was excited.

WOMAN IN BAGHDAD STUDIO AUDIENCE:

I want to ask about Backstreet Boys. What do you know about them? What are their latest?

MAN IN NEW YORK STUDIO AUDIENCE:

I gotta be honest, I think the Backstreet Boys have some really, really catchy tunes, so I'm definitely down with the Backstreet Boys.

WALEED NESYIF:

They are sucks, you know! [Laughing]

AHMED ALBASHEER:

I always wanted to be one of the Backstreet Boys when I was a teenager. I even know the dances. I had the same clothes—the white pants and the open shirts. And I go to the high school with these things. "'Sup my name is Kevin, not Ahmed." [Laughs]

Ahmed Albasheer

AHMED ALBASHEER:

[Singing in Arabic] Turn me into an explosive, I accept it.

Lash me, I accept it.

Just don’t tell me you’re going to leave.

[Speaking English] My family wanted me to be imam, at the mosque. But they lost that hope when I was 7, I guess, when I started to say bad words. [Laughs] I was cursing. My father was very religious; it was very conflict. He had some—I don’t know why—huge problem with the songs, with the music.

When I take my father's car I remove the—his tapes, which is Koran or a nasheed, which is Islamic songs, then I put my music in and driving around Baghdad, I go crazy. The music is very high.

I was always asking myself why I wasn’t born in the Western world. I shouldn’t be born in this world.

SADDAM HUSSEIN PROPAGANDA VIDEO:

[Singing in Arabic] Oh love, we love the leader.

Saddam the president and our father.

Omar Mohammed

OMAR MOHAMMED:

I remember is when I get into the school, I see paintings of Micky Mouse and the picture of Saddam Hussein. I saw his picture everywhere.

Whenever his name is mentioned, you'd not just mentioned his name, you have to say, "May God protect him, may God save him, may Allah give him more life, may God takes our lives and give it to him, because without him we can't survive."

And being a child, I thought he's immortal. We are humans, but he is something different.

GIRL IN PROPAGANDA VIDEO:

[Speaking Arabic] You cradle the poor in your arms. You are the pride of our great nation. You always make courageous decisions.

AHMED ALBASHEER:

At some point I thought he is my grandfather, because I see him everywhere and I was like, "Yeah, this is my grandfather, he’s cute, he’s good, blah blah blah. He’s brave." This is what they teach us in the schools.

And then when I was 12, or maybe 11, 12, I realized that no, he's the president of the country and I have to never say anything bad about him because I will be killed.

WALEED NESYIF:

And there's this guy called Hasanain and he was like [deleted], which means "s--- on Saddam." Every time he says it, it's like, "Oh, my God! Shh, shhh! Zip it! Zip it!" [Laughs] And he’s like, "So it's OK to say 'f--- God.'" And I was like, "Yes." "But 'f--- Saddam'?" I was like, "No!" [Laughs]

Because you don’t know who's listening, and that’s what he created. The idea that your next door neighbor, your brother, your cousin—anyone could be the one that reports you.

SALLY MARS:

[Speaking Arabic] In school, a young girl who was my friend said, “My father burned Saddam’s picture. He hated him because he killed my uncle.” So the teacher got angry and shouted at the girl. She said, “Are you trying to kill us? We’ll all die if you speak like that.”

Sally Mars

SALLY MARS:

[Speaking Arabic] That’s what they told us when we were children: that you'll die with your family if you talk about Saddam. So the situation was a bit— [Laughs]

UM QUSAY:

[Speaking Arabic] Saddam used to say, “Starve your dog and it will follow you.”

There were days when we had absolutely nothing to eat. In my area, al-Alam, we used to eat chicken feed.

There was no rest, we were always at war. Wars that were not even necessary. The Iran war, the Kuwait war. Another war, I don’t know where. We were completely exhausted by it.

Um Qusay

FEMALE INTERVIEWER:

[Speaking Arabic] How did people react when Saddam came to al-Alam?

UM QUSAY:

[Speaking Arabic] The same as for any prime minister visiting today. Everyone clapped and gathered round him to celebrate. But later on some people in al-Alam tried to assassinate him.

He killed half the men involved.

If you minded your own business, he had no business with you. If you opposed him or expressed a political opinion, he would kill you.

WALEED NESYIF:

I was pro-war, absolutely pro-war, and so were many, many, many, many Iraqis. It's almost the end, you know? It's just like, "Let's push through, let's push through, let's get this s--- done," and then a better thing is gonna come—the land of dreams.

 

CHAPTER TWO

I felt hope

March 2003

 

SALLY MARS:

[Speaking Arabic] Right after sunset we would turn the lights off, light the lanterns and keep the light very low. We'd hear the shooting and the explosions. I was 6 years old at the time.

I remember that a missile hit very close to our house. And my mom, she threw herself on top of us, me and my brothers. The house was shaking, we thought it would come down on us.

JAMES BLUEMEL, Producer/Director:

You must have been scared.

SALLY MARS:

[Laughs] [Speaking Arabic] Of course.

WALEED NESYIF:

The bombing did not stop. It was just bombs, bombs, day and night.

But I was going out amidst all of that. I was looking for cigarettes. I'm a heavy smoker, and I heard that one of the shops are still open and they're still selling cigarettes, so I stole—or took, borrowed—my cousin's small little bike. So it's a small little bike, and here I am, cycling on this thing. But then all of a sudden it got dark, and I look up and there is this black cloud that engulfed everything around me. And I remember I was just like, "What the—what's going on?"

And then I discovered what it was. Here's what Saddam did: They dug wells and they dumped crude oil in it and they lit it on fire so that they can create visual distraction for the American pilots.

They were thinking that these guys are using visuals to actually bomb, not satellite-guided missiles and stuff like that. They thought that "Oh, the plane is gonna come, the pilot looks like this, and he's like, 'Oh, yeah, there's a target over here, let's shoot right over there.'" [Laughs]

So all of Baghdad, all of a sudden you had all of these wells of oil burning up and the sky literally just going dark.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

This is George W. Bush, the president of the United States. At this moment the regime of Saddam Hussein is being removed from power and a long era of fear and cruelty is ending. The government of Iraq and the future of your country will soon belong to you.

SALLY MARS:

[Speaking Arabic] They weren't what I imagined them to be, they were slightly weirder.

One time, American soldiers passed by and I asked them if they were Ninja Turtles, [Laughs] with all those weapons on their backs. I gave one a flower. Then I was so shy I ran home. I don't know why I did that. When I got home my mom had locked the door out of fear.

MALE AMERICAN SOLDIER:

The welcome here has been pretty good. Everybody's helped us out, been friendly. So, it's better than being shot at.

MALE REPORTER:

Where you from?

MALE AMERICAN SOLDIER:

From Texas.

MALE REPORTER:

Is it like Texas, being here, or a lot different?

MALE AMERICAN SOLDIER:

A lot different. I can understand what everybody's saying in Texas.

AHMED ALBASHEER:

We never thought that Saddam will be removed, never. Until I saw two American soldiers standing in the street. I was very happy to see them at that time, like, "Hi! I can speak English!" [Laughs]

So, when I saw them, I felt hope. I had this dream that my country is becoming one of the good countries in the Middle East, or maybe in the world. A country like America. This was my dream.

Actually, that was lots of people's dream.

WALEED NESYIF:

There was a genuine sense of hope. I was like, "They're here, they're here." You know? And then when we saw the statue—my uncle looked at us and he was like, "It's over. It's done."

Slowly but surely, the belief started becoming more and more cemented that this is actually happening right now. And then—oops! All of a sudden we see Saddam in the streets.

IBRAHIM AL-RAWI:

[Speaking Arabic] Saddam decided to go to war, whatever the consequences. People say he didn't know what was coming, but he did. He was looking ahead to the next chapter of our history, which was the Iraqi resistance to the occupation.

Ibrahim al-Rawi

IBRAHIM AL-RAWI:

[Speaking Arabic] Here is a personal picture of me and the late martyr Saddam Hussein. I was one of the president's advisers.

This picture was woven by hand. I find it very expressive.

What would you do if someone tried to break into your house? Would you sit and watch, or would you resist? It is the instinct of every proud and patriotic Iraqi to resist all invaders.

FEMALE INTERVIEWER:

[Speaking Arabic] Do you still miss Saddam Hussein?

IBRAHIM AL-RAWI:

[Speaking Arabic] I miss him every moment of every day. I even see him in my dreams.

WALEED NESYIF:

And then he disappeared and nobody knew where he was. Just, poof! Gone.

But yeah, he just fricking left.

Is Saddam gonna come back? Because he wasn’t captured. Where was he? Did he have another plan? We didn’t know.

Things were changing so fast. We couldn’t cope.

OMAR MOHAMMED:

It was Thursday. I came back from the school and when I went inside the house I saw all my family watching the TV, like this. I thought, "It's not happening. This is not possible. Saddam is gone? No, this is not possible." Because on the TV they are saying Saddam is gone, in the street it's different, so I believed the street, not the TV.

 

CHAPTER THREE

And then there was chaos

 

OMAR MOHAMMED:

Saddam was still the president of Iraq in Mosul—

Mosul

Northern Iraq

OMAR MOHAMMED:

—and all the mosques were preaching the same prayer of "May God protect Saddam," and then they start shouting against the Americans.

After a few minutes, a Humvee stopped by the mosque and this very same preacher all of a sudden changed his mind and he started shouting against Saddam. I was shocked. What just happened?

Many people followed him and swapped sides in a moment.

CROWD [chanting]:

[Speaking Arabic] Saddam is the enemy of God!

OMAR MOHAMMED:

And then there was chaos. You'd see people running to everywhere, stealing things from buildings, from the schools, from everything.

MAN IN STREET:

They are looting everything, destroying everything. I don’t know why. Goodbye.

WALEED NESYIF:

When you have years and years of poverty and then all of a sudden the floodgates are open, with no supervision, what would you do?

I mean, I was tempted, and I remember seeing American soldiers waving "bye" as people literally just looting every single government building—schools, hospitals, you name it.

OMAR MOHAMMED:

Everyone was running inside the bank. Money was everywhere. People were out of their minds.

DONALD RUMSFELD:

If you go from a repressive regime, we’ve seen in that transition period there's untidiness. Freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. Stuff happens!

MALE AMERICAN SOLDIER:

Primarily our big concern right now is trying to get things back to normal here in Baghdad. They had a lot of problems with locals out here looting. It’s a pretty tough situation because we're not a police force and we can’t go through patrolling, acting as policemen, guarding everybody.

Baghdad

Four weeks after the invasion

WALEED NESYIF:

Right after the invasion, one of the very few jobs that you can do in Iraq is to work as a translator. I was ready to work for a dollar, and they were like, "Would $50 be OK?" And I was like, "Fifty dollars a what?" and I’m trying to compose myself. And they were like, "A day." And I was like, "Fifty fricking bucks is fricking awesome!" Fifty bucks was my dad's salary for six months; I was making it in a day. And I was like, "All right, we got a deal."

I would hire a cab, would take a journalist with me and we'd just drive around.

This is Mutanabbi Street. This is one of the most old streets in Baghdad.

And it's such an odd feeling, because before the war started, shops are open, people are walking, buying, selling, eating, drinking. And now it’s a ghost town. There is no electricity, no water. It's an impossible situation for anyone that was there. On the one hand you're hopeful, the future is going to be great and all of that. At the same time you're seeing clear evidence that things are not good.

And then Iraqis were under this impression, it was like, OK, this is the greatest power in the world. They're gonna come and rebuild everything in months. Month One passed, there is still no electricity, there's still no water. Baghdad became a city of garbage. What's going on?

May 2003

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.

WALEED NESYIF:

"Mission accomplished." Oh, yeah? Seriously? [Laughs]

Simple things are what we were asking for, very simple. Dignity, water, electricity and a hope of a job—not even a job, just a hope that you'll get a job. These things, had they happened, Iraqis would not have reacted in the way they did. We would have actually been liberated for real.

 

CHAPTER FOUR

There you go America

 

MALE AMERICAN SOLDIER:

Three to four mortar rounds were reported as to landing within the vicinity. We have 18 soldiers who are wounded.

July 2003

4 months after war began

WALEED NESYIF:

We're going for Haifa Street in order to do a follow-up for a story of an explosion happened for a Humvee—

I remember going and doing this story. There was an attack near an American Humvee, but then kids were there, and they all got basically shredded by shrapnels.

The whole casualties of this was 17 child, five of them get killed and 12 of them were injured. A girl lost her eye—completely lost her eye. This is the child. She lost her eye. Hello!

[Speaking Arabic] What’s your name?

ALAA ADEL:

[Speaking Arabic] Alaa. Mom, stop crying. She’s driving me crazy, stop.

Alaa Adel

ALAA ADEL:

[Speaking English] OK.

[Speaking Arabic] This is the first time that I've spoken about what happened to me.

It was the third day of my exams. I'd finished my exam and was on my way home, when a U.S. Humvee passed by and an insurgent fired an RPG at it. Shrapnel went through my left cheek, my nose and into the back of my eye. My cheek was hanging off and my face was covered in blood.

I just kept hearing voices. The last thing I said was, "Leave me alone, I have to study for my math exam."

Then they took me to the hospital.

After that I lost consciousness. That's what happened.

[Speaking English] That's it.

ALAA ADEL’S MOTHER:

[Speaking Arabic] Where's my daughter?

MALE BYSTANDER ON STREET:

Her daughter were seriously injured in this attack. They were in the street.

ALAA ADEL:

[Speaking Arabic] Because of the state my face was in, nobody expected me to live. Our neighbor’s little daughter and another woman were killed.

MALE NEIGHBOR:

[Speaking Arabic] What have we gained from Bush? What? My children are dead! May God curse Bush and America!

What did they do to deserve this? You're playing with our lives. My kids are dead!

ALAA ADEL:

[Cries] [Speaking Arabic] 
I hate that they came to Iraq.

I've never wished harm on anyone, but I wish it upon them.

There you go, America.

WALEED NESYIF:

That girl represents the beginning of the end for me. Because things were still OK at that time, regardless of all of these atrocities that were taking place. The focus of the attacks was the Americans, so people were still somewhat hopeful.

Now the question is, how long did it last? And that was not long.

 

CHAPTER FIVE

It’s never gonna be safe again

 

PAUL BREMER:

Ladies and gentlemen, we got him!

December 2003

PAUL BREMER:

Iraq’s future has never been more full of hope. There is a new opportunity for the members of the former regime to end their bitter opposition.

SALLY MARS:

[Speaking Arabic] We used to see him full of strength. So it took me some time to realize that this was the same Saddam.

IBRAHIM AL-RAWI:

[Speaking Arabic] Saddam Hussein would never look like that. What they did was a lie. It was fake.

They wanted destroy his reputation.

AHMED ALBASHEER:

So when he was captured like that—"Ah, no, it's his double, it's not him. Impossible to be the same guy. He's invincible, he's like Hercules."

But they know it's him. He is Saddam, but he's a person. He's not a god.

UM IBRAHIM:

[Speaking Arabic] Why is he focusing on Saddam?

FEMALE INTERVIEWER:

[Speaking Arabic] So that he can understand what your lives were like at the time. But we will go on to other things.

Um Ibrahim

UM IBRAHIM:

I wish I'd been with the Americans. I would have tortured him with them. I’d have done anything to help the Americans.

Saddam executed 17 people from my family. They were all intelligent, successful, educated. They don't even have graves, we can't visit them. We cant go to them in any way.

My mother used to go on the roof and hit herself with a hose. She'd say, "This is how my children were killed. This is how my children suffered." She’d hurt herself.

So Saddam didn't just execute my brothers, he executed all of us. How could we not stand with the Americans?

Saddam didn’t like Shia Muslims, so he banned anything that was Shia. Now we could practice our rituals in peace. We couldn’t believe it. We weren’t scared anymore. We had freedom. We thought things would stay good, fine and safe forever. But it didn’t turn out that way.

Shia Festival of Ashura

A new group called Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for the bombing.

UM QUSAY:

[Speaking Arabic] After Saddam was removed, Al Qaeda moved in. When a car bomb would go off in a Shia area they would blame the Sunnis. When a bomb went off in a Sunni area they would blame the Shias. They did this so that the people would start fighting among themselves.

AHMED ALBASHEER:

It’s like there was a nest for car bombs in Iraq and this nest is open now and you can hear 30 explosions every day. You just get used to that. Sometimes I was sleeping in the morning and I just hear the car bombs, I was like, "Shut the f--- up, I want to sleep." I swear.

Before that there wasn’t Al Qaeda, there was only insurgents. We know that now it's never gonna be safe again.

UM QUSAY:

[Speaking Arabic] Sectarianism started. Sunni, Shia, Sunni, Shia.

But before, it wasn't there at all. Because everyone was scared of Saddam Hussein. Whoever talked like that would be killed. They would disappear and never be seen again.

 

CHAPTER SIX

I felt guilty to have survived

 

SALLY MARS:

[Speaking Arabic] The situation became worse day by day. Everyone was talking about war. A child shouldn't have to live like this.

I wrote about what I was doing at school and things that had happened. I was still very young at the time.

I see that most of the memories here are sad. No child should draw this. What was I thinking? The roots of the tree are streams of blood. [Laughs]

I saw bodies being picked up from the street and lifted onto pickup trucks, and blood would be dripping from them.

I used to think that maybe Saddam could come back and calm the situation down. Because since he went things have gotten worse.

WALEED NESYIF:

Working, doing what I did, being seen with foreign journalists, put you immediately in danger as a person with a target painted on your chest.

Another friend of mine, by the name of Ammanj, we received similar death threats almost at the same time. With him, they sent him his brother's head in a garbage bag. So once I heard this news, then the decision was very clear because I have three younger brothers.

It’s hard. It's so hard to see all of these things happening in front of you and you're not capable to do a thing towards that. Nothing, absolutely nothing. But the problem is, there isn’t much options. There isn’t. We don’t have any options.

Three days after that I was in Jordan. And I was illegal in Jordan for a few months, then started the process of coming to Canada.

I felt—and I don’t think I’ve shared this with anyone—I felt guilty to have survived it. The people you love the most are in the most dangerous place in earth. Their life could end in any second. Every time you talk to friends, so-and-so got murdered, so-and-so died, and then the stories just continue and continue and continue, so I dreaded fricking phones.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

Now I know some fear of the possibility that Iraq could break apart and fall into a civil war. I don’t believe these fears are justified. They're not justified so long as we do not abandon the Iraqi people in their hour of need.

AHMED ALBASHEER:

There was rumors that the Americans asked Saddam, "How much time do you need to make the situation in Iraq better?" He said, "I will need one hour. Forty-five minutes to shave and to change my clothes, and 15 minutes to say my speech on TV, and this is how Iraq will settle down and it will be fine." It’s not [untranslated Arabic].

FEMALE INTERVIEWER:

And he believes that it could have happened?

AHMED ALBASHEER:

He could do it.

October 2005

UM IBRAHIM:

[Speaking Arabic] All Iraqis were following Saddam's trial. He had no fear. He wasn't scared of anyone.

SADDAM HUSSEIN:

[Speaking Arabic] I know that you are under pressure, and it hurts me that I have to face one of my own people. But it’s not about me, let me be clear. It’s not about me. This is about Iraq.

IBRAHIM AL-RAWI:

[Speaking Arabic] The court was weak in front of Saddam Hussein. He wasn't the one on trial or being interrogated. He was putting them on trial.

SADDAM HUSSEIN:

[Speaking Arabic] What Iraq achieved has been destroyed, crushed by the American tanks on its land.

IBRAHIM AL-RAWI:

[Speaking Arabic] His people witnessed him. The Arab world witnessed him. They saw his virtue and generosity. They saw what Saddam Hussein wanted them to see. It's impossible to forget.

JAMES BLUEMEL:

How did that make you feel when you saw those images?

AHMED ALBASHEER:

I had a relationship at that time, I didn’t care anything. [Laughs] I didn’t care about anything.

JAMES BLUEMEL:

Tell me about the mood on the street, then. Do you remember the mood of the country?

AHMED ALBASHEER:

His popularity grow. He lost it to zero, and then he started to gain it again, from the court.

JAMES BLUEMEL:

On the streets?

AHMED ALBASHEER:

On the streets, yes.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

All the mothers were scared

 

UM IBRAHIM:

[Speaking Arabic] The neighborhoods divided into Sunni and Shia areas. Kidnappings started.

"To the Shia blasphemer dogs, we give you 24 hours to leave or we will kill you viciously, you and your family."

MALE AMERICAN SOLDIER:

I wouldn't want to call it an exodus, but we've come across quite a few people leaving for good. Mostly people with money—the poor can’t really afford to do it. I've noticed a lot of doctors and guys like that doing it.

AHMED ALBASHEER:

We were carrying two IDs, one for a Sunni checkpoint and the other for the Shia checkpoint. It’s different—the names, the tribe, the province, everything. Lots of people got killed and they are Sunni. They were killed by Sunni checkpoint because they pulled the wrong ID and they were like, "No no no, we are Sunni, but we are faking we are Shias!" Shh, pop. They got killed.

SALLY MARS:

[Speaking Arabic] The Americans would only act if they were attacked. They'd say, "It's terrorists attacking their own people. What's it got to do with us?"

AHMED ALBASHEER:

It was a very bad time, especially 2006 and 2007. Very bad time. Normal civilians fighting normal civilians, and for no reason—just because they are Sunni and they are Shia, and that’s it. But I never thought that there would be a civil war between Iraqis. This I never saw coming.

I was ready to die. Everyone in Iraq was ready to die. He knows that he could die any minute—random bullet, explosion, American convoy. Anything in the street could kill you. It was like hell in Iraq.

I don’t think there's a family and they didn’t lose anyone. Everyone was losing everyone.

JAMES BLUEMEL:

Can you tell what happened to your brother?

AHMED ALBASHEER:

[Laughs] S---! Do I have to?

JAMES BLUEMEL:

Of course you don’t have to.

AHMED ALBASHEER:

It's—I hate that moment. My brother was—he was killed in a very brutal way. The mortar shell fell right on his head, and he was—he became pieces, literally. I saw the pieces. And we collected the pieces to make a body so my mom thinks that there's a human, but there wasn’t a human. I don’t want talk about it, please.

November 2006

RAOUF ABDEL-RAHMAN, Chief Judge:

[Speaking Arabic] The court has decided to sentence the accused, Saddam Hussein Almajid, to death by hanging.

SADDAM HUSSEIN:

[Speaking Arabic] Long live the people, long live the nation. Down with the traitors, down with the invaders. God is great. God is great. To hell with you and the court.

UM IBRAHIM:

[Speaking Arabic] When they announced Saddam's death sentence, we celebrated. A new page has turned and those things are over. And I hope to God that no one as vile as Saddam will ever come to power again.

IBRAHIM AL-RAWI:

[Speaking Arabic] Of course it pains me. I am known as a hard man, but when it comes to this, sometimes it brings me to tears. I witnessed his profound humanity, a side of him many do not know.

May God's blessings be upon him, the people's martyr Saddam Hussein.

MALE MILITANT:

[Speaking Arabic] We condemn this criminal and unjust act against our leader, the leader of the Arab nation, the martyr Saddam Hussein. We will revenge our precious hero.

UM IBRAHIM:

[Speaking Arabic] There was a lot of killing after Saddam's fall. All the mothers were scared. I couldn't sleep, never. I'd worry over my son.

This is Ibrahim. And that's his brother Bassam. They'd always be together. They loved each other.

This is—this is Ibrahim's grave.

The pain wounds me. He's my son. I lost my son, my husband and my grandson. It was because of their savagery, Al Qaeda.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

This is the new Iraq

A surge of American troops helped end the civil war.

December 2011

 

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

For nearly nine years our nation has been at war in Iraq. The troops are now preparing to make their final march across the border and out the country. Iraq's future will be in the hands of its own people. Our war there will be over.

MALE AMERICAN SOLDIER:

It just touches my heart to see our troops coming home. Job well done.

SALLY MARS:

[Speaking Arabic] There was a celebration. I think they called it "Victory Day," or something. It was a good feeling.

Al Qaeda had disappeared. Of course there were still bombings and attacks. But slowly, slowly we started to feel safer. I began to think about living a normal life, like a normal teenager.

But what followed was shocking.

Canada

WALEED NESYIF:

My friend! How is your day?

MALE SHOP OWNER:

Not too bad, can’t complain. Yeah. Another day in paradise.

WALEED NESYIF:

[Laughs] Yeah.

They do say, and it's true, home is where heart is, and my heart is in Baghdad and forever will be. Plus, it's f------ cold here. [Laughs]

I arrived to Canada, met this beautiful, loving, fricking woman. I married, got educated here. I studied film and media.

My name is Waleed Rabiaa.

I was really an intense individual at that time.

My name is Waleed Rabiaa. I left my country eight years ago. And now I want to return.

I couldn’t return home until 2012 because that’s when I finally got my permanent residency. I spoke to my wife and I was like, "I can’t take it anymore. I gotta go home."

December 2012

WALEED NESYIF:

And 
I knew that my brothers were waiting for me.

I don’t even know what I gonna do when I see my mother.

WALEED NESYIF’S MOTHER:

[Speaking Arabic] 
Oh, apple of my eye!

WALEED NESYIF:

I mean, not to see your mom for eight years? It was an insanely happy moment.

[Speaking Arabic] 
OK, enough!

WALEED NESYIF’S MOTHER:

[Speaking Arabic] 
I can’t believe my eyes! [Cries]

Is it really you? I can’t believe it’s you!

WALEED NESYIF:

What are you doing?

WALEED NESYIF'S BROTHER:

What are you doing? Yes, I clean your face. [Laughter]

WALEED NESYIF:

And it just hit me: I left my brothers, they were kids. The youngest was 9 years old. I put him to bed.

And I was thinking, it was almost like I was in a dream and I just woke up and you're expecting that not two minutes have gone by.

I wanted to do a high school friend reunion. Some of them started coming up with excuses and excuses. And there is this friend of mine called Hakkam. He—finally he was like, "No, no, no. If you want to hang out, just come here, we’ll hang out, you and I." And I was like, "But, why? Our friends." And he was like, "Because you f------ invited al-Samarai." Yeah. And I was like, "Do you not remember? We fricking snuck out of school together, we did all of these—of course I invited him!"

And the guy was like, "Oh, you're one of those! He is Sunni." And I was like, "Hold on. Do you mean to tell me that you don’t speak to him because he is Sunni?" And he was like, "Yeah." And he was like, "And let me tell you something, Waleed: The Iraq you left is no more. This is the new Iraq."

The Sunnis at that time had gotten it really, really bad because the Iraqi government was just pushing and pushing on these people.

MALE SPEAKER IN CROWD:

[Speaking Arabic] I swear to God, and all these people that stand with me, that when tomorrow comes we’ll bring Baghdad down in a couple of hours, I swear to God.

CROWD [chanting]:

Allahu akbar!

OMAR MOHAMMED:

The prime minister is a disaster. He started the collective punishment of the Sunnis with the support of America.

Nouri al-Maliki

Iraqi Prime Minister

OMAR MOHAMMED:

Maliki started arresting the Sunni leadership. He cleaned the government from all the Sunnis. It became impossible for both sides to find peace again.

WALEED NESYIF:

The Iraqi army has been intensifying their operations. There is sessions of torture. This was going on for years.

MALE SPEAKER:

[Speaking Arabic] These are from Maliki’s prisons.

WALEED NESYIF:

And the sentiment was very clear: the Iraqi government is Shia, we are Sunnis, we are gonna get our rights back.

I know something bad is going to happen, and I have to leave again. I was sobbing like a kid, because I didn’t know whether I'll see them again or not.

WALEED NESYIF’S MOTHER:

[Speaking Arabic] Take care of yourself, my son.

WALEED NESYIF:

Something was a-brewing, and that thing f----- us for good now.

Mosul

June 2014

TAHANY SALEH:

[Speaking Arabic] I was asleep when a friend of mine called. She said, "Tahany, don't be scared."

Tahany Saleh

TAHANY SALEH:

[Speaking Arabic] I remember at dawn, I heard the sound of megaphones. "We are the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant." What Islamic State? What does this mean?

OMAR MOHAMMED:

We drove through the city. The army that used to insult the people on a daily basis in the checkpoints have disappeared. They collapsed.

We thought the security forces would come back, fight back, the terrorists would leave. But then when I saw the weapons, the new cars, they were almost all in one uniform, I became totally sure that ISIS is here to stay.

JAMES BLUEMEL:

Can you just explain why people are cheering?

OMAR MOHAMMED:

They weren’t welcoming ISIS, but after years of oppression from corrupted troops and government, people felt free for the first time. That's what ISIS was selling to the people—that Maliki and his government is gone.

What we used to see as the police now is the Islamic police. What used to be Iraqi flag now is the black flag of ISIS.

From Day One you would see in the street what they called the media outlet—putting on the TV, on the monitor, ISIS videos, showing their propaganda.

ISIS PROPAGANDA VIDEO:

[Singing in Arabic] "A fun day out under the Islamic State."

MALE ISIS MEMBER:

[Speaking Arabic] Oh, it’s wonderful, it’s a year of blessings. Look at how happy people in Mosul are now.

MALE SPEAKER:

[Speaking Arabic] This is our land, a land for Muslims, and I hope we keep it forever.

OMAR MOHAMMED:

I saw myself children between 12 to 15 years old joining ISIS just after watching a video.

JAMES BLUEMEL:

Would ISIS have existed if America had stayed?

AHMED ALBASHEER:

I don’t think so, no. No. Americans would have stopped that.

The USA committed two major bad things in Iraq: first was invasion, and the second was withdrawal from Iraq, because we were not ready at all. We didn’t have an army, a good army. We didn’t have a good police to control the ground. We didn’t have a strong government—it was very weak. So, when they withdraw, it was a mistake.

So, in blink of an eye, ISIS controlled three cities—three major cities—in Iraq.

ISIS PROPAGANDA VIDEO:

[Speaking Arabic] We have a battalion specializing in anti-aircraft missiles. A battalion of armored vehicles. A battalion for raids.

 

CHAPTER NINE

Save us they cried

Tikrit

4 days after ISIS invaded Mosul

 

ISIS PROPAGANDA VIDEO:

[Speaking Arabic] The province of Mosul has fallen thanks to God Almighty, and that is because of the soldiers of the Islamic State.

UM QUSAY:

[Speaking Arabic] At the beginning they said, “We want Baghdad and we want to take revenge on the government. We want nothing from you.”

We told them the government is there, go to them. But they were lying. ISIS are liars.

We didn’t know that when ISIS took over they would commit the Speicher massacre.

Camp Speicher

Training base for the Iraqi army

ALI HUSSEIN KADHIM:

[Speaking Arabic] I joined the army because of financial difficulties. There were no jobs that paid me enough to support my family.

Ali Hussein Kadhim

ALI HUSSEIN KADHIM:

[Speaking Arabic] I had been training at the Speicher Base for about 12 days, and those days were very normal. Then suddenly everything changed. The light days turned dark. They turned dark for us soldiers.

We found out that Tikrit had fallen to ISIS. Chaos followed, there was no order.

We changed into civilian clothing when we left the base because we thought we would get to our families. There were 4,000 of us.

ISIS members approached us saying, "Welcome. Yes, we have weapons, but we won't harm you. We are not against you. Cars are coming now to take you home. Don't be scared, we're just taking

you to the presidential palace so that you can swear never to return to the army."

"You have to repent." They call it repenting.

When we went behind the palace, I knew we were going to die. They were going to kill us.

ISIS PROPAGANDA VIDEO:

[Speaking Arabic] This sinner was trying to run away. He had civilian clothing, but we spotted his army uniform underneath.

ALI HUSSEIN KADHIM:

[Speaking Arabic] There I am. That one is me. When I see myself, it all comes back to me, how I survived. How by God, I survived among all these people.

And I remember something that happened. There was one member of ISIS who said, "We will take revenge against you for Saddam, we will slaughter you."

All I could hear was the gunshots. One came to our row and started shooting one at a time.

As soon as he shot the third person in my row, his warm blood splattered on me. I heard the fourth shot that was supposed to be for me, but I don't know where it went. And after he shot, he gave the bodies a kick.

The soldier said, "This guy is still breathing," about me. "He's still breathing, he's alive."

And their leader said, "Leave him, leave him. Leave him to suffer and bleed to death."

But I wasn't bleeding, I wasn't shot. It was the blood of the poor martyrs next to me.

I stayed where I was until nightfall. There was blood all over me, in my ears. The sound of the dead, their snoring. The snoring of the dead.

I don't know how I stayed conscious through this. Thank God I was able to return to my family. But I'll never forget what I saw. It's not easy.

1,700 cadets from Camp Speicher were executed by ISIS.

UM QUSAY:

[Speaking Arabic] I come here a lot because it reminds me of everything that happened. Opposite is the Speicher camp. They were walking from Speicher towards Tikrit to try and get to their families. But ISIS was waiting to slaughter them. So they turned back and reached this corner here.

“Save us, save us,” they cried. "We are your brothers."

I can hear a voice calling now that reminds me of them.

We helped the soldiers across this river and hid them at my home. And I wasn’t alone. The people of al-Alam protected 850 men from Speicher.

In this room alone, I sheltered 58 people. I held them and kissed them. I made them a tray of food. Their souls came back to them, and they were comforted by me. I felt like the entire world couldn’t contain my happiness at that moment.

Of course we were afraid. This entire area fell to ISIS. But we put our trust in God.

This is the thank-you letter I received from the former prime minister thanking me for my efforts. And this letter came with a medal for outstanding bravery. I like to keep it in the car as a pleasant reminder. When I'm feeling upset, I come here to look at them. [Laughs] Even if it's just ink on paper.

FEMALE INTERVIEWER:

[Speaking Arabic] Why did you put your life in danger to help those boys?

UM QUSAY:

[Speaking Arabic] The reason was that first of all, they are Iraqi. And secondly, I hated ISIS. Someone has to help and stand against them. And without love, the whole world would be killing each other.

Can I smoke now?

I will never forget them.

SALLY MARS:

[Speaking Arabic] Everybody was terrified that ISIS would enter Baghdad at any time. They were close to the borders, only one hour away from us.

You’re looking at a bunch of scared girls. Scared girls wondering when ISIS would come. They would show each other videos on their phones of what ISIS was doing. Wherever you looked it was all about ISIS, ISIS, ISIS.

They understood how to attack us mentally before they attacked us with weapons. They made us fear them.

MALE VICTIM:

[Speaking Arabic] I’m digging my own grave. They came to my house and took me from my family. Nobody gets away from them.

MALE ISIS SPEAKER:

[Speaking Arabic] Where is Maliki’s army to save you?

MALE VICTIM 2:

[Speaking Arabic] Maliki’s army is a failure.

SALLY MARS:

[Speaking Arabic] They understood how to get to us, in a scary way.

WALEED NESYIF:

I was back in Canada. My brother called me and he was like, "Daesh just took over Tikrit." And then the Speicher thing happened.

It was a matter of time until Daesh come to Baghdad, and I was like, "OK, how much money do you have?" And he was like, "I don’t have any." And I was like, "All right, OK. Give me one day and I'll come back to you."

So I scrounged up as much money as I can put together, sent it over and I was like, "You buy tickets right now and you go to Turkey right now." So I moved the whole family to Turkey within a matter of a week. And I remember talking to my wife and telling her and I was like, "It just never stops. It never stops."

Daesh made us look at Al Qaeda time and they were like, "Ah, they were just a bunch of jokers, these guys." And they were, in comparison. [Laughs]

Mosul

OMAR MOHAMMED:

We heard of Speicher, as ISIS distributed directly videos, so we were aware of what was happening. They were talking like there is a great victory for the Islamic State.

But I still remember seeing those people in the truck while begging ISIS, and this guy who was killing them using the pistol and throwing them into the river. Who would be able to do this? Who can do this?

Once you are part of ISIS, you are a monster.

Ahmad al-Matyouti

Death row prisoner of Iraqi Security Forces

JAMES BLUEMEL:

Can you start by—tell me, did you know you were joining ISIS?

AHMAD AL-MATYOUTI:

[Speaking Arabic] Yes, I knew I was with ISIS. I felt really proud when I was fighting, but when my family left me I felt regret. I have two girls. Two girls.

If I get out of prison, if God released me, I would never join ISIS again. I would not want to lose my family a second time. I’d go back to being a construction worker.

But I’m sentenced to death, and that’s my punishment.

My first meeting was with someone who said he was with "the organization." We were in the mosque for evening prayers. He told me, "You're a man who isn't very comfortable financially. Why don't you join and look after the vehicles?" I told him I want to pledge.

Their cars were attractive, modern cars. Modern clothing, modern weapons. I was wearing the best clothes. I looked really good. I gained more status, people started respecting me. Anywhere I went, I wouldn't be denied anything. It was a very good feeling. I felt like I was free.

JAMES BLUEMEL:

So what happens at the training camp?

AHMAD AL-MATYOUTI:

[Speaking Arabic] They first gave us a Sharia course. How to fight for the sake of God. In the morning we'd do exercises. In the afternoon we'd have weapons training. I came out a different person.

We have to fight for God’s sake. Until we die.

FEMALE INTERVIEWER:

[Speaking Arabic] Until you die?

AHMAD AL-MATYOUTI:

[Speaking Arabic] Until we die.

August 2014

TAHANY SALEH:

[Speaking Arabic] If I'd had the chance to leave Mosul, I would have gone. Because all my dreams and ambitions were over. My life was no longer my own. It was in the hands of those people who came.

ISIS PROPAGANDA VIDEO:

[Speaking Arabic] You need to follow God's orders, where we enforce what is good and forbid evil.

MALE SPEAKER:

[Speaking Arabic] You should know that satellites spread temptation.

TAHANY SALEH:

[Speaking Arabic] If you didn’t go to the mosque at prayer time, you’d be lashed. If you smoked a cigarette in the street, you’d be lashed. I realized that I had no choice but to submit to the Islamic caliphate. Which means I had to wear a hijab, a burka.

AHMAD AL-MATYOUTI:

[Speaking Arabic] I was very harsh with the women who did not dress properly. If she was married and did not apply Sharia, she’d be lashed. And if she wears makeup. Sings songs.

Women would not be killed except by stoning.

I think it was very good.

 

CHAPTER TEN

The black devil

 

TAHANY SALEH:

[Speaking Arabic] Everything they did was an act of destruction. They wanted to change everything.

I stopped going to university. We stopped going into the street. We’d been completely abandoned.

The existence of Mosul Eye was very meaningful. Because when I read what was published on it, the daily posts—[Laughs] Oh, I just don’t know what to say. He documented what was happening in a way that gave me a lot of courage to continue. He’s sure that the caliphate will end. Why can’t we be sure as well?

"Let's all stand united in the face of this ISIS terror."

Mosul Eye blog

TAHANY SALEH:

[Speaking Arabic] I once heard that the person who finds him will get a reward. I think they used to call him "the black devil."

"The city lives in a state of crisis and disorder."

Mosul Eye blog

OMAR MOHAMMED:

There were rumors in town. Some people were saying Mosul Eye is a Jewish Iraqi who loves his city. Some others saying that this is a professional psychological operation from CIA.

TAHANY SALEH:

[Speaking Arabic] "People who followed Mosul Eye were heretics and should be killed." [Laughs] But when I used to browse the page and follow what was on it I felt there was still hope for life.

OMAR MOHAMMED:

ISIS feared what Mosul Eye was doing. Telling them you are not alone in town—someone is watching you. ISIS is not controlling everything in our life.

"Freedom is very near, my people."

Mosul Eye blog

OMAR MOHAMMED:

Someone said, “I wish I knew who was Mosul Eye, because I would behead him myself.”

From the very beginning I felt the responsibility and the importance of exposing what’s happening, putting everything online. This led to the creation of Mosul Eye.

JAMES BLUEMEL:

That was you?

OMAR MOHAMMED:

Yeah.

At least I was doing something against them. That ISIS, with all its weapons, couldn’t manipulate the truth.

The normal day under ISIS rule was hand cutting, stoning women in the street and execution. This was a normal day under ISIS. And if this didn’t happen, we would say like, "Wow, there is something wrong. Why there is no execution?"

MALE INTERVIEWER:

Did you watch the executions?

OMAR MOHAMMED:

Yes. They were beheaded.

The moment I decide to leave Mosul was the most difficult moment in my life. The house next door where I live was an ISIS senior leader. The house behind us was also an ISIS leader. The fear that my family would be punished as a result of what I was doing was getting higher. There was only one way to leave.

[Speaking Arabic] I’m on the border with Syria. We’re at one of the smugglers' houses. Just a few moments to freedom.

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN

It’s very dangerous to forget

October 2016

 

OMAR MOHAMMED:

The battle to retake Mosul began. It was the Iraqi Security Forces with the support of the United States.

I wanted the city to be liberated, but I was afraid, because it's a fight to finish ISIS. It's completely different from liberating the people.

When Trump came to power, he said that he wanted ISIS to be defeated at any cost. Part of this cost was my brother, my eldest brother. He left four children behind.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

We’ve done more against ISIS in nine months than the previous administration has done during its whole administration—by far, by far. And ISIS is now being dealt one defeat after another. They never got hit like this before, and we’ve made their lives very, very difficult.

TAHANY SALEH:

[Speaking Arabic] We decided that we would move. We would flee our home, because we couldn't take it anymore. Enough.

The mortars started. The army was bombing and ISIS was bombing. And we were right in the middle.

And this father who was with us told his children, “I'm sorry. I'm sorry that I brought you into this world and couldn't take care of you. I'm sorry I have to make you walk barefoot in this cold. I'm sorry. I'm sorry that everyone abandoned us. I'm so sorry we live in this country.”

After 10 months of intense fighting, ISIS was forced out of Mosul.

Paris 2019

OMAR MOHAMMED:

I’m still 33, and I have lived all of this. Americans, Al Qaeda, civil war, the killing of Sunnis, the killing of Shia, the executions, the beheadings. It’s a miracle I’m still able to talk, isn’t it?

It’s very dangerous to forget. Because memory all is what’s left for us.

I remember the people in my neighborhood, and that we were able to play in the streets with no fear. Yeah, this is what I remember when I was a child in Mosul.

Mosul is known of its minaret, which we call our "old lady," because it’s watching us and protecting us. You would find very old and ancient houses. You will see mosque close to a church, and then a shrine. It’s the place where you belong and the place where you identify yourself with. And when the sun shine, you could feel that the sun is shining just because Mosul is there.

Unfortunately, everything I have described has been destroyed. My city is gone.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

The goals of our coalition are clear and limited. Coalition forces will help maintain law and order, so that Iraqis can live in security. And I assure every citizen of Iraq, your nation will soon be free.

SALLY MARS:

[Speaking Arabic] They destroyed a whole country. Plunged it into sectarianism and war. They did all of that just to get rid of one person?

But it made me stronger. I learned a tough lesson. I learned the true value of peace.

20:49
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Undocumented in the Pandemic
August 11, 2020