The Land of Fife, the Cradle of Civilization, and My Home
By Falah Hafuth with Sowsan Hafuth
Artwork by Zeena Salam
I am Dr. Falah Hafuth, born and raised in Baghdad, Iraq. I graduated from the University of Mosul in 1983 as a physician and have been practising medicine in Canada for almost 30 years. I left Baghdad in 1984 after working as a physician for only a short period of time through the Al-Kindi Specialized Hospital and the Iraqi National Centre for Cancer Research.
The reason I left Baghdad was because I didn’t want to participate in Saddam Hussein’s unjust war between Iraq and Iran. I chose to join the opposition political front who were for a democratic state and who tried to get rid of Saddam and eliminate the reign of dictatorship. Saddam’s regime was never for the people and was governing Iraq without a real free election. The elections that took place were administered by Saddam and his puppets and he was always the winner by a 99.9% vote. How lucky, right? His regime forced people to become members of his party, the Ba’ath party. He introduced a law subjecting anyone from other parties to death sentences, torture, and prison. He was engaging the country in very risky acts like attacking neighboring countries and waging the war between Iraq and Iran for 8 years, destroying much of the infrastructure of Iraq.
Everyone was subject to a certain degree of harassment from the government, especially if they weren’t participating in the government party and activities held by Saddam. These included the student unions, youth organizations, women organizations, etc. Anyone not a part of these would be considered an enemy and went on the notion of “if you’re not with us, you’re against us.” I didn’t believe in tying my life into these organizations or these people who were so ideologist, I believe in freedom and everyone being their own entity. With these thoughts and not publicly supporting Saddam, you became under surveillance and on the watch list of the secret police or by
Saddam’s organizations. People like me were targeted.
One night in 1980, someone had written:
يسقط صدام حسين
يسقط حزب البعث
(Down to saddam hussein, down to Ba’ath party, death to the dictator) on the wall of the medical school. That same night me and my friends were staying late in one of the reading rooms to study. So, when the secret police discovered the graffiti on the school wall, they immediately took every student that was in that reading room that night to the secret police headquarters in Mosul. Those days in the headquarters of the secret police were the most difficult days in my entire life They were torturing us on a daily basis in so many ways to figure out who wrote it. Immediately they released the students who were collaborating with the Ba’ath party and student union, but kept the students who hadn’t been affiliated with those organizations. We payed this price for two months. I was able to feel the joy on the face of the interrogator when he saw us in pain, calling our nightly torturing session the “night party”. The interrogator would tie our arms to tables or behind our backs and extinguish his cigarettes into our hands. They would tie us to poles in cold rooms and leave us there overnight on a very cold ceramic floor and take our jackets and belts away so we couldn’t hang ourselves when we’re alone. They would throw cold water on us 2 or 3 times a night during the winter then whip us with electrical cables. They finally released me after I had written the graffiti slogan in a book to fill about 100 pages and decided my writing wasn’t the same…after two months. The only reason I didn’t drop out of medical school was because many of my classmates would spend time writing the lectures and summarizing everything for me and the others. They then helped teach us everything we missed when we were released. Even people I never met before did this for me. During my time in jail, I made my final decision to leave this regime as soon as I could become a doctor and support the movement against Saddam. I didn’t want any innocent soul to go through the same wretched torture I endured. So, after medical school I worked for one year in Baghdadi hospitals. I then left Baghdad (the central government area) to support the rebels in the provinces of Kurdistan (Northern Iraq).
Me and a friend were smuggled in the back of
a car across checkpoints to the North of Iraq (Kurdistan), where the government
had no control over the rural villages. Once we arrived at the villages and
gained the trust of the rebels who resided there, they let us join them. We spent
two and a half years with them. I was helping this opposition as a physician by
treating the wounded, delivering babies, and doing whatever I could to help
these sanctioned areas of Iraq. People in Kurdistan weren’t allowed to sell
their products to the rest of the country and were isolated, unless they worked
directly with Saddam’s government. So, I went on the back of my horse with my
medicine bag and a couple of books, travelling as a mobile medical unit between
villages in remote areas with the rebels. The government never knew we were a
part of the rebels because we changed our identities (our names, our looks,
etc.). If they ever found out who we were by a photo or anything, they would go
after our families.
My journey ended with the rebels at the end of 1986 when Saddam started throwing chemical bombs into the remote villages of Kurdistan where the rebels used to take shelter. Everyone was dying, birds were dying, animals were dying. I remember thinking to myself that I never appreciated the beauty of the different types of colourful birds there were until I walked through one of the villages that got hit by a chemical bomb a few days earlier and all these birds were laying dead on the ground. At that time I realized that we can not fight a regime that is poisoning the air. I had then left Iraq with the rebels. We had nowhere to escape to other than going to the Iranian cities on the Iraq-Iran border.
At Saddam Hussein’s time, there was a state, but under dictatorship. No freedom. Although, after the American invasions in 1991 and in 2003, the entire infrastructure of Iraq was completely demolished. All the governments that came after the last invasion in 2003 have been even more corrupt than Saddam. Iraq needs a real, transparent, free election without the involvement of America meddling in its affairs. In Iraq now, elections are a very poor tool for measuring democracy. A democratic country should have equal opportunity for everyone where equal services are provided to everybody. In Iraq, basic services are almost non existent; there’s no clean water, only a few hours of hydro a day, and the unemployment rate is high among young people. Although the oil production companies are doing OK, there is a shortage of oil to Iraqi people. It is very clear that America is not interested in helping people as much as they are interested in controlling the oil of our lands. They didn’t take care of the infrastructure that was destroyed by their very own American war machine.
It is clear the reason for invading Iraq was not to introduce democracy, neither was it because Saddam was a vicious dictator. It was for controlling the oil. Before the invasion, there were hundreds of ways to get Saddam out of power and save hundreds of thousand of innocent victims, but America chose to invade Iraq and take the lives of innocent peoples in such horrific ways. America’s behaviour after the invasion shows they have no interest in democracy and improving the life of the people in the Middle East. As long as the Middle East has the powerhouse of the world, being the largest oil reserve, the warmongers of the Western world will never let this area settle. Until either oil no longer becomes a hot commodity, or the peace and justice prevails in the world. Although, I don’t see either of these two things happening in my lifetime. This is the reality.
Real hope for freedom is dependent on many factors. The main one is that peace and justice will prevail around the world and the people of each country will contribute to it. If we have a government that looks after its own people by genuinely respecting our human rights and cooperating with each other on an equal basis, the international community will not let others take advantage and abuse the resources of our nation.
Young people everywhere have the most power in their hands for a better future. If they stick with the peace for their own country and other countries equally, we could defeat the peace disturbers and live in unity. We would pull the rug out from under the feet of those who are opportunists that want to take the resources of others. Standing in solidarity together to fix the entirety that is our world, not just your own world.
Iraq will always be a part of me; it is the only place where I do not feel like a stranger. I still think about it because that was my childhood, my life, my education. My family still lives there. And it can never be forgotten. I will take those memories to the grave with me. To be away from Iraq for so long has solidified my love of true Iraqi history and has increased my interest to study it more. I keep falling in love with Iraq again and again. I express my love of Iraq and the open wounds I have from being forced to leave through various forms of art like poetry and music that can easily remind me of my old life. Iraq to me will forever be the land of life, the cradle of civilization, and my home.
Falah was born in 1955 in Baghdad, Iraq. He graduated from Mosul Medical School in 1982 and moved to Canada in 1988. He was also the first president of the Iraqi Canadian Society in 1991 and he was the founder and current president of the Kitchener Waterloo Arab Canadian Theatre. He is currently practising medicine as an ER physician and in an urgent care clinic.
Zeena is currently living in her home town Najaf, Iraq. She is studying accounting at the University of Kofa along with pursuing an art career on the side. She enjoys painting and drawing pieces that relate to Arabian culture, nature, and landscapes.