Thursday, January 08, 2004

An Iraqi family's tragedy

In the name of God, the most Compassionate, the most Merciful.

Mr. George Bush president of the United States of America,
Mr. Tony Blair prime minister of the United Kingdom,
Mr. Jacques Chirac president of the republic of France,
Dr. Adnan Pachachi president of the Interim Governing Council,
Mr. Paul Bremer American civil adminstrator of Iraq,
Mr. Kofi Anan general secretary of the United Nations,
The Director of the Red Cross Organaziation,
The Director of the Human Rights Organization,

Dear Sirs,

I write to you in a very distressed state of mind and that may burst my emotions and passions because of the weighty calamity that struck me and my husband after losing our oldest son who was at the tender age of nineteen years. He was looking forward with eyes full of hope and optimism to a bright and eventful future, especially after being engaged to marry a relative of his very recently. He moved forward with all his energy to build their future life with firm and confident steps. But Fate stood in his way and seized him unexpectedly leaving a bleeding wound in the hearts of his parents, his fiance, and his friends and family. Please allow me to tell you my story...

On Saturday the 3rd of January 2004, my son and his cousin were travelling back to our residence in Samarra, they were driving a small cargo truck belonging to a third party from which they earn their livelihood in a country torn by wars and sanctions. Yes, they were back from Baghdad yet misfortune followed them from the beginning, their car broke down on the road which caused a delay in their arrival to Samarra when the curfew hour was just about to start in the city...And this is where the first chapter of the tragedy takes place. An American army patrol stood in their way, and after they went through the whole procedure of searching my son and his cousin, and inspecting the cargo load, they tied them up both and led them to an area about three kilometres from the scene front of one of the gates of the Tharthar dam where water flows at its strongest rate and to my son and his cousin's horror, they ordered them to jump into the water, it was midnight and the cold was unbearable, when they hesitated, they were pushed by the soldiers. Unfortunately my boy cannot swim, even though swimming at this time of the year wouldn't have helped. Yet my sons cousin survived miraculously after he got stuck in a tree branch to give us his account of this tragic event which could have went untold. He tried saving my son, but the water current was stronger than him...After days of search we found my sons jacket floating with the stream, it shall remain with me as a memory and a symbol of the injustice brought against him by soldiers of the United States of America's army, who came to our country under the banners of human rights and democracy only to send my son to his demise on his wedding days...

To document the incident, my son's name is Zaydun Ma'mun Fadhil Hassun Al-Samarrai, born in the 1st of June 1984...Yes, they killed him and they broke my heart, try to imagine that dear sirs and ask your wives how hard it is for a mother to see her fruit ripen only to be thrown by sinful hands and to be swept away without any mercy or humanity. Those soldiers have turned everything America has ever stood for into one big lie. I was a victim, and there are and will be many more.

And that is why I turn to you all and to your respected ladies. And especially to Mr. President George Bush to look into my case and order an investigation of the event. I know that anything you may do will not bring me back my boy, but I wish that the procedures may put an end to the suffering of Iraqi mothers, we are reaping misery every day from actions of American soldiers with no regard to our human life, our dignity, and our culture and values. Maybe the procedures will help me trust (again) the validity of those banners and mottos that fly high in American skies, those which we do not perceive in our country, but instead find their opposites. Maybe such an investigation will support the power of law and justice so that day may not come when the conscience of one of the murderers awakens and confesses to its deeds, which will make it then a responsibility on your great nation.

I am assured that you know terrorism and what is regarded as a terrorist act. Pray tell me have you ever seen or heard about a terrorist act that is considered any uglier than this crime, which was followed by crushing the car and levelling it to the ground by American military vehicles?

This is a question I put to you all and to the international community, and I await a peremptory answer.

Yours sincerely,

In grievance for her son,

The mother of Zaydun Ma'mun Fadhil Hassun Al-Samarrai.

Samarra, Iraq.

Take a moment to read this letter twice and think about it if you are as concerned as I am. This was done in the name of your country by soldiers of your national army. This was not an accident or a mistake, this was deliberate action. I do not know the exact details of the event or what Zaydun and his cousin were accused of, that is all irrelevant because even a criminal would not deserve such treatment. This is not just about Zaydun, this is about Iraq, the same could happen to anyone, even to me. But I will keep my opinion out of it for the moment as no words can describe my frustration.

Zaydun's cousin said that the soldiers were drunk and looked tired, and that during their ride they even chatted and joked with one of the soldiers who spoke a little Arabic. After he managed to get out of the water he remained hidden because he could see that the unit was searching for them using flashlights and he was scared to death.

The family met an American official to ask him for an investigation, he yelled at them and started to lecture them about the discipline of American GI's, in the end he promised them nothing. Zaydun's body is yet to be found and the family is broken. Zaydun is a relative of mine so I volunteered to translate the letter and expose this thuggish behaviour to an audience as wide as possible, it shouldn't go unreported. The letter has already been sent to various Iraqi papers and to offices of Arab media in Baghdad. I will stay on top of this in the next few days so I would like to ask my readers to help me and write to their Senators, to the western media, and to anyone that can do something about it. I also need people to translate it to other languages. That is of course if you care about Iraq and Iraqis.

You can contact the family directly at

This is Zaydun below, and here are copies of the letter in Arabic, one and two.

UPDATE: It seems the American official is now willing to investigate into the matter after he heard about this letter being sent to GWB and the western and arabic media. That is all the family is asking for, just an investigation. They will meet the family Saturday. I also contacted Chief Wiggles and asked him to look into the matter.

And yes the letters description of the incident is a bit obscure. But I couldn't alter the text, I was just asked to translate. Remember that this is the writing of Zaydun's mother and she is at the moment emotional and confused so you can't expect all the facts, however the family and the cousin can be reached at the email I provided for the full story.

Regarding the crushed truck, its still available for evidence. And as to the handcuffs, according to the cousin the soldiers untied them before asking them to jump in the water. Also the reference to the wedding day, that was an error of translation on my part, the text in Arabic says ayam 'irsuhu which is a bit difficult to translate to English in a meaningful way. I guess I should have seeked the help of a proffessional translator in this.

I was also a bit skeptical to the details but when I heard that the official refused to investigate, I decided to publish the letter as is. Also the cousin can identify the American GI's, it was not a checkpoint unit, it was a patrolling unit. They were not fedayeen disguised in American GI uniforms, thats ridiculous. If it sounds like propaganda to you thats all the more reason to carry out a meticulous investigation, as you know stories like this can inflame peoples reaction and a lot of Zaydun's relatives may want to take revenge by themselves. And would you blame them for that if the Americans in charge dismissed the matter without an investigation?

A creepy coincidence is that just this afternoon I heard that a friend of mine was badly injured by another American unit in Baghdad last night during a wedding when people started to celebrate iraqi style by shooting in the air. It was a mistake yes but the doctors say my friend may not be able to walk again. I am at the moment too overwhelmed with bad news so I may sound incoherent to you.

I will post more updates as soon as I get them.

ANOTHER UPDATE: A full investigation will commence tomorrow which will involve the family and the surviving cousin. Chief Wiggles is also looking into the matter from his end at Baghdad. So at this point let's all avoid any further speculations on the incident and try to keep an open mind until all details are clear. I'm in Basrah right now (and having trouble again) so please be patient if it takes some time for me to get back to you.

As to the letter I admitted that I was hesitant to publish it the way it was since it was so obviously incoherent as to the details which were provided by the cousin who is until now the sole witness. The reason I published it later was that the American officials at Samarra refused to carry out an investigation. I wanted to gather enough attention from the blogosphere to try to push an investigation because the charges are serious and shouldn't be dismissed or shrugged off as that could lead to even more trouble in an already inflammable area. And it was a successful attempt to some degree.

And I would like to address some of the seeming inconsistencies in the letter, first the Tharthar dam is actually bawabat nadhum al-tharthar which is on the Tigris and regulates water from the river to the Tharthar lake via a canal not very far from the Samarra road and people in that area usually refer to it as the Tharthar dam. Second, according to the cousin's account, the soldiers removed the handcuffs before telling them to jump in the water. Zaydun did not survive because he couldn't swim, his mother said that since his uncle died drowning, Zaydun's father wouldn't allow Zaydun near the water, and hence he couldn't swim. His cousin however was lucky. As to the flashlights (or torches), please don't be too quick to affirm that American GI's in that area never use them. I've seen them myself during night patrols in my neighbourhood use them (especially during power outages). And I am aware that the letter itself may look like one of those Nigerian scam emails everyone gets in their inbox, but that is the way people in the ME write. They can't help but write like that. And I also admitted that the translation on my part wasn't perfect. You can find the letters in Arabic above the picture.

One thing is certain. Zaydun is dead. How or who or where or why are yet to be confirmed. So don't jump to any conclusions. I never asked anyone to blindly believe the story, I just asked that you do something to help it get investigated.

I never implied that I was 100% convinced about the details. They were really really troubled when I talked to them and they just handed me the letter and the picture and asked me to do whatever I can do about it. There are other relatives of the family that are involved in this and I'm not coordinating things with them.

However as I promised I will stay tuned with the family and keep you all updated on how the investigation proceeds. I am aware of the huge responsibility I have to my readers, and even if some parts of the story or all of it turn out to be fabricated by the cousin, You can be sure that I will report it.