Iraqi woman shares story in Gainesville
Jenni & Roger Otterson
October 2003

On January 25, 1999, at 9:30 a.m. Basra was attacked by a US warplane and missile. Windows shattered. Streets in the residential neighborhood filled with smoke. Akbal Thyab went looking for her children. Her son, Mustafa, then age four, was crying "Mama, I am scared!" Over 100 pieces of shrapnel were imbedded in his body. Her other son, Haider, was killed. Mustafa had two fingers amputated as one result of the missile strike. The doctors told her that he had many pieces of shrapnel inside him but they could not operate because there were not enough supplies or skilled surgeons due to US sanctions. Migrating shrapnel continues to pose a risk to Mustafa's lower spine and hip joints.

Akbal Thyab was an elementary school teacher. She and her family are collateral damage. A U.S. missile slammed into their neighborhood in Basra severely injuring Mustafa and killing Haider. Now this tragedy defines her life. On that day she became known as Um Haider, mother of Haider. She and her family have suffered for over a decade from U.S aggression and sanctions. Recently she was able to get support to bring her son to the US for surgery to begin repair of his injuries. Support comes from Voices in the Wilderness and No More victims,

Um Haider spoke visited Gainesville in September. Her story was brought to the attention of the Community Coalition Against War and Terrorism by Candy Lovett, a 1991 Gulf War veteran who suffers from Gulf War Syndrome. Candy met Um Haider on a trip to Iraq in 2001, during the period of sanctions, when Candy was working on rebuilding water purification systems in Iraq with Veterans For Peace. This was one of Candy's ways of paying back the Iraqi people for the horrors she saw on the "Highway of Death," the road from Kuwait to Basra, Iraq, where many thousands of Iraqis were killed by advancing US forces in 1991. Candy had the job of burying the dead.

On meeting Um Haider in Iraq, Candy asked for and received forgiveness. Um Haider and Candy formed a bond then and recognized that they are both victims of war. Candy has been a leader in getting Um Haider's son medical treatment and a chance for a more normal life. "When Um Haider forgave me, that was a turning point in my life. And I knew I had a responsibility to share the atrocities of the Iraqi people. At that point, it was no longer my story, but the story of the Iraqi people," Candy says.

"In the beginning, of course, I hated Americans" Um Haider said. She has a mission beyond getting medical treatment for Mustafa. "I want to ask the people here to know what is happening to the Iraqi people," Um Haider said. "They are very good people. They love peace." In her speech Saturday, she mentioned the fears her son has of airplanes flying over head, of men dressed in uniforms. The fears and pain the children and people of Iraq live with daily, inflicted by the US.

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