I remember my father. His smile was always a reassurance in chaotic days. He was a merchant when he was alive, back before the war. At that time, we live in Umm Qasr along the Persian Gulf. My father was a fisherman, though there wasn’t much of a market for the trade. It’s easy to remember who he was, but it isn’t easy to remember why it all happened. I was just a little girl, ten years of age.
My mother had been frightened when the foreigners invaded. Baghdad fell with little more than a whimper. She gripped me in her solid embrace and I remember the fear that emanated from her person. It wasn’t the foreigners she feared. My mother was grateful that the great tyrant had been dethroned. She was fearful of something else. I didn’t find out until much later just what.
The wind blows fiercely before me as I stand, now, watching the ever expansive desert lands. I stand atop a small dune near my childhood home remembering the fateful events of fifteen years prior. My short, black hair flings about, grasping at the sand particles flowing in the wind. Those particles sting my flesh, interrupting my concentration. My tattered rags of clothing hang loosely from a slender form. I eat what I can find.
I’ve never blamed the foreigners for what I’m going through now. However, I feel that this tale needs to be told. What I know is limited by what I’ve been told, by my mother, by my family, my father’s dying words, and what I myself witnessed. I am an Iraqi; a woman who has survived the greatest travesty to mankind. This is how it began...
Karim Jamal Ibn-Hasan angrily strolled along the costal bank to the small boat dock. Things had been quickly spiraling out of control for him and his group. They were freedom fighters, Karim and his brothers. The occupational forces had overstayed their welcome by mere moments, before they had even arrived to tackle the regime’. Karim didn’t care what their intent was, the fact that they dared set foot upon the sacred soil of Iraq was enough to boil his blood in rage. The brothers had vowed a violent jihad against the aggressor.
“How long must we wait, Ali?” Karim asked his eldest brother who had been busy with a net full of small fish.
“When we receive word, then we will go. Until then, be patient, my brother,” Ali responded and continued on with his work.
They had already waited weeks to assert their revenge. Karim and the others within the small group of rebels were eager to strike at the American forces. They had no concept of why it was they were fighting. There was only this strong issue of pride in a land of desert that was ruled by an evil dictator, what I have heard referred to as a ‘school yard bully.’ This that leader assuredly was. And these brothers would follow him into death. Or maybe it was, they just wanted a reason to fight.
Regardless, Karim saw my father returning from the gulf on his small fishing boat and plodded over to where he was disembarking. My father never cared for Karim, despite the fact he was his wife’s brother.
“Hakim, I’m going to Fallujah this weekend. I want to borrow your truck,” Karim spoke to him as he neared.
My father Hakim looked at the younger man and shook his head. He didn’t like that Karim lived with his family, and certainly didn’t trust him with the only vehicle our family had. Father stared at Karim knowing his brother-in-law was up to something that could bring shame to them all.
“My truck is not for you. Why not ask one of your brothers for a car? Nabil seems to have acquired several,” father responded.
“Those cars are for other causes. I need your truck. I will bring it back Monday. You have my word,” Karim said as my father continued along back home.
Father could feel the piercing gaze of Karim as he walked home that day. Karim had went back to speak with his brothers, my father saw this as he risked a glance back. There was a heated discussion going on between them. Though, no one said what was spoken.
That night at dinner, Karim had come home late and was greatly agitated. I saw him speaking with my mother and yelling at her about many things,
“Why won’t that stubborn husband of yours give me his truck!?” Karim waved his arms in the air with frustrated gestures.
“Please, brother, keep your voice down. It is the only vehicle we have. Why do you want to take it?” My mother spoke rationally.
She had taken to not wearing her black shawl and let her brown hair flow freely. This irritated my uncle greatly and he had told her on several occasions to replace the shawl and put on a veil. She always countered that the veil wasn’t always needed even with Saddam. However, that was a conversation on other matters.
“Because I am going to Fallujah. There is no further reason needed!” he knelt and spoke, “I’m tired of waiting! The Infidels violate our way of life! They must be stopped! I was telling our brothers this when your husband returned! Yet, Hakim will not listen to me!”
Karim sat on the couch next to my mother with a thump. He wasn’t happy. He rarely was during that time.
“They are liberators, not infidels. The Infidel was Saddam!” Mother spoke back and was slapped by her brother.
“Do not ever speak such blasphemy of the heir of Mohammed!” he sat back down and I could only crouch in fear in the adjoining hall.
They didn’t know I was listening and I wondered where father had gotten to. He must have been out back speaking with one of the neighbors like he was so fond of doing. I was afraid of what my uncle may try to do.
“Najma...I have no recourse then. We will all go to Fallujah. The Infidels are turning you into a dog,” Karim said and got up to leave the house.
My mother cried then and laid upon the couch. I could do nothing more than watch and then return to my room. There was a great fear welling in the home. My two sisters and my little brother could feel it as well. We were all silent as we ate our dinner. I know father sensed something had transpired and he glared at Karim the whole meal. Karim kept glancing back at him yet said nothing. He only smiled.
I do not know the full scope of what was happening, only that the American forces were coming under fierce attack by a resistance that would not let up. Fallujah seemed to be the new battleground and I had no desire to go there. I felt bad for the people who lived there, but why were they striking so hard at people who wanted them to be free? It was true that things were getting bad. Though, I had a feeling that the reason that was could only be due to the resistance fighters and their lack of compassion for their own people. These supposed Muslims who were adamant followers of the Quran didn’t harbor any qualms about destroying private property and murdering innocents.
Of course, I had heard of the mishaps of the military forces ending up killing many children and families. I had also heard, this was common during war and rarely intentional. What the jihad fighters were doing, was very intentional. And that’s how I figured out that my uncle was one of their ranks.
That and the fact that uncle Karim made good on his promise two days later. He and three of his brothers came to the house and instructed everyone to get into the truck.
“Come on, get in the truck,” Karim demanded to all of us as the morning hour struck ten.
“Karim, what is the meaning of this? My family is not going to Fallujah and you are not taking my truck!” my father said to him and was very angry.
Karim looked at him and nodded to one of my other uncles. My mother looked at them in disbelief as they grabbed my father and dragged him out of the house. We all screamed and cried
. “No! Karim! Stop this! Stop this now!” my mother screamed and pleaded.
Three of my uncles pulled my father out back and shot him in the chest. They threatened the rest of us if we did not get in the truck. I ran to my father’s side as he lay bleeding. He was stuttering for breath and would soon die, I could tell.
“K...Kamela,” father spoke to me as I cried, “they, they have a weapon...it can do deadly things...Kar...im doesn’t know...he doesn’t know he can destroy man...find...the...Ameri...s,”
I found myself being yanked to my feet as Karim dragged me to our old truck. I didn’t understand what my father had said or why Karim would want such a dangerous weapon. I didn’t understand why anyone wanted what was going to happen.
It took days of driving along desert roads to get to Fallujah. We saw several burning military vehicles. Whenever one was spotted, one of my uncles would cheer and send praises to Allah. I was afraid, though, that the jihad fighters were winning. All their tactics went against the Quran and they knew no santicty of life. What if they drove the Americans away? Who would fight them then? Sure, it had been bad then, but I refused to contemplate the alternative.
When we arrived in Fallujah, some really bad looking men with automatic weapons ushered us into a safehouse. The city was in shambles from weeks of war. Fortunately, most of the main populace had already escaped. However, this meant the extremists were going to have their way. For several days, we were sequestered inside a windowless room.
Then, one day, my mother was yelling and screaming at her brother. He beat her but she still yelled at him.
“How can you!? You must stop this! No! Don’t go!” mother screamed.
I could hear them but couldn’t see what was happening from the room. Things went quiet and I heard cars or other vehicles starting and pulling off. The wailing of my mother was slightly more distant then. But they hadn’t taken her, in fact, they had left us there. Within minutes, mother had come to get me and my siblings. She told us to hurry and we left the house. We ran all the way to the edge of town. Jihad men started shooting at us but we didn’t stop. I thought one of them hit mother but I wasn’t sure until we were rushing towards a group of American soldiers.
Bullets were spraying everywhere and the soldiers were shouting something. Mother was waving her hands in the air and then she fell down. I looked back and saw her lying in a pool of blood. I cried out and turned back, but she held her head up,
“No! Keep going! Don’t come back!” and I did.
The soldiers saw what happened and their tanks fired at several buildings. I grabbed my little brother and ushered my two sisters forward. The soldiers took us to a vehicle at the back of their entourage and the driver inside took us back to their base. I didn’t see what happened next, but I know my uncles helped orchestrate the events.
Fallujah remained a battle ground, though the soldiers were able to get the body of my mother. Eventually, we would bury her back at home in Umm Qasr. However, I and my siblings remained within the American base for several weeks. During this time, I tried to speak to soldiers about what my father had said, but no one understood me. A translator told me that the soldiers were very busy and didn’t have time to speak to little girls. Especially not after the attack.
“What attack? Did it involve a nasty weapon?” I inquired.
“There was a nasty weapon. But what would you know of such things?” the man asked me with a mild smile.
“My father told me that my uncle Karim didn’t understand the weapon they were going to use, that he could destroy man,” I blurted out.
The man looked at me for a few moments and his smile faded into an expression of sympathey. He looked down to the floor and took a minute or more to finally speak. He looked into my eyes when he did respond,
“There was a weapon of dangerous intent used. They killed many people with them. However, there was a minimal to the casualties that could have been.” he spoke.
“Where did they strike?” I asked.
“Two places in America, one place in London, England, a ministry complex in Saudi Arabia, a downtown restaurant in Sydney, Australia, and downtoen Tokyo, Japan,” he said to me.
“All those places with one weapon?” I asked, stupified by the idea.
“Ho-heh, they ochrestrated the attacks simultaneously. I hope for your uncle’s sake that he wasn’t involved. Where is your father now?” the kindly man spoke.
I know now he was digging for information. He had laughed slightly about my childish innocence, but I was saddened by the facts. Did my uncle do such a thing? So many places at the same time...I never saw my uncle again, so I believe he helped unleash the weapon.
“He’s dead. My uncles killed him,” I said and wandered off to cry.
Fifteen years ago, those weapons were unleashed. As I stare now across a desert terrain, in a place that Fallujah had once stood and the place of my mother’s death, I consider what should have been apparent. During the short time I was in the company of the Americans, before they helped me get home, I discovered through a little spy work that the weapons were a biological attack. No one elaborated on what that meant.
However, anyone with half a brain these days could tell you, it meant the death of man. My father hadn’t meant mankind, though. He had literally meant man. The jihad fighters must’ve come into the possession of a new weapon that was designed to kill Americans and their sympathizers. However, they must have overlooked one crucial ingredient. An ingredient that targeted the ‘y’ chromosome in the human anatomy.
Some libraries were left in Baghdad and some knowledge helped me to understand the extent of what transpired. Reports had it that men all across the globe were becoming sick at an exponential rate. Within five years, half of the world’s men were dead. The birthrate of males declined. Ten years into the viral infection, an infection that was airborne and apparently expanded within an oxygen rich environment, nearly ninety percent of men were extinct.
A group of women had organized a party to find those responsible. However, whoever they were, they were long since dead. These days, about five percent of the total populace is male and they’re well protected. Special facilities were built to defend them from the airborne virus. Not that it made much difference. Very few women can produce males anymore. Those that can are treated as Queens. That is, provided the child doesn’t die upon exposure to fresh oxygen.
I look at the blue skies above and I wonder, do we have a future anymore? Is this the price we pay for our beliefs? And if I ever saw my uncles again, should they have lived, what would I say, let alone do to them? Hmm, I remember my father’s smile. It was always a reassurance during the chaotic days.