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I Was An Innocent Prisoner at Guantanamo Bay

An Iraqi's tale of an odyssey through war zones, trying to reach the West but ending up in Guantanamo.

As a young man in Iraq, I longed to live in the West. Yet when I finally came within reach of the free world, it was no longer as a free man.

The quest to escape my homeland ended with my imprisonment by the United States military at Guantanamo Bay. I spent eight years there, followed by several months in jail in Baghdad when I was repatriated, before I was finally freed.

Today, I live at liberty in the country I spent my youth trying to flee. As I drive around my home city, Baghdad, I ask myself whether I have been treated fairly. Perhaps I was wrong to try and leave my family behind in the first place.

I grew up with reckless desires and whimsical dreams -- I wanted to live in Europe, and to date a beautiful, blonde woman; I wanted a job and a car. My family was poor and I wanted to help them buy a house.

My experiences have taught me to be patient. I have learnt that an Iraqi wandering abroad is like a ball flung around in different directions, from one misfortune to another.

I was born in 1974 in southern Baghdad. When I was six years old, my uncle was executed for links to a banned Shia religious party, the Dawa. The party was founded in Iran and its members were regarded as traitors by the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein, which was suspicious of Shia Arabs and spent much of the 1980s at war with Iran.

My uncle’s execution plunged my family into a state of fear. The security forces searched our home. My father seemed to be lost in a vast, black sea, perplexed about how we were to survive, and worried for his own safety.

At the age of 12, I started working part-time. At first, I helped mechanics fix cars. Later, I took to the streets, selling sold cold water, cigarettes and juice to support my family.

After finishing technical school, I was conscripted into the army. Military intelligence had been briefed about my uncle, and I was constantly intimidated, interrogated and insulted. Faced with this hell, I decided to desert and join the opposition.

It was 1995, and Iraq was under international sanctions as a result of its invasion of Kuwait. I set off for the semi-autonomous Kurdish north, where opponents of Saddam could operate relatively freely.

However, I was arrested en route when the security forces stopped me and discovered I was carrying a copy of my uncle’s death sentence. I had hoped to use the document to prove my credentials as a dissident once I reached the offices of the United Nations or an opposition party.

I was tried as a deserter and sentenced to death by firing squad. My family sold their most valuable possessions to bribe the judge, and the sentence was reduced to a year’s imprisonment.

Back in the military, life was even harder, as I was now stigmatised as a deserter. My family borrowed money from relatives to obtain a forged document that said I had been demobilised. I used this to procure an Iraqi passport, and in 1998, I crossed the border into Jordan.

My search for work took me to Libya, Syria and eventually to Turkey -- the gateway to Europe.

The Turkish authorities arrested me and sent me to northern Iraq. After another failed attempt at crossing through Turkey, I changed tack and set off eastwards through Iran. I thought that with luck, I would be able to get to Russia, or perhaps travel by sea from India to Australia.

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