Iraqi Ambassador: U.S. Sacrifices Have Given Iraqis New Hope
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
HOLMDEL, N.J., July 11, 2006 U.S. military men and women have given the Iraqi people hope, Iraq's deputy permanent representative to the United Nations said during a July 9 ceremony here at the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans' Memorial.
Molly Morel, an American Gold Star Mother from Tennessee, talks with Ambassador Feisal Amin al-Istrabadi, Iraq's deputy permanent representative to the United Nations. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Feisal Amin al-Istrabadi spoke to a group of American Gold Star Mothers, mothers who have lost a child in the service of the United States. The women listened intently as Istrabadi expressed deep gratitude on behalf of his country.
"I know that there's no particular word of condolence or consolation that would mean very much in comparison to the loss that you have suffered, and so I'm not going to try to console you for that loss," he said.
Instead, the ambassador painted a picture of what his country was like after Saddam Hussein came to power and what he has seen happen in recent years, thanks in part to the Gold Star Mothers' children.
He told of his parents' two exiles from their country, the most recent in 1970, just after Saddam came to power. Istrabadi's father decided to leave Iraq shortly after an televised hanging of 13 men interrupted family programming on the equivalent of the eve of a major Islamic holiday. "I will forget many things in my life, but I will never forget the faces of those 13 men," he said.
Over the next three and a half decades, Iraq was ruled by perhaps the most tyrannical regime on the face of the earth since fascism gripped Europe, Istrabadi said. Two million Iraqis were killed by Saddam's regime and, to date, 270 mass graves with the remains of 400,000 people have been discovered.
"Political prisoners were being executed en masse in my country, the country in which the rule of law, itself, as a concept, originated thousands of years ago," Istrabadi said.
Though Saddam was growing older, the hope for regime change was slim. Saddam's grandson, Mustapha Qusay Hussein al-Tikriti, 14, was an heir apparent, the ambassador said.
The Iraqi people had every reason to believe that the next 50 years were going to look very much like the previous 35, Istrabadi said. That all changed on July 22, 2003, when Saddam's two son's and the grandson, Mustapha, were killed in a firefight with U.S. troops in Mosul. U.S. troops had moved into the country as a liberating force on March 19, 2003.
"The intervention of the United States in my country has been a lifeline for us," Istrabadi said. "It has restored hope for us that our future will be very different from our past."
That past included state-sanctioned torture chambers and rapes. The regime was so controlling that Iraqis were required to have a license to own a simple typewriter, Istrabadi said.
Iraq does not have a perfect democracy yet, he admitted, describing democracy as a process. That process is working in Iraq as evidenced by changes resulting from two successful elections and a referendum that created a permanent Iraqi constitution, he said. He participated in those elections, voting for the first time as an Iraqi citizen at age 42.
The political changes that came with the elections are reflected in the Iraqi people, he said.
"I can't explain it, really, but you could see in their faces there was a change," he said of his first trip back to Baghdad after the fall of Saddam's regime. "They were more relaxed. They weren't just going about their business and hurrying back. You would hear laughter in the streets again."
Istrabadi admitted that speaking to mothers who have lost children fighting on behalf of his country is perhaps the hardest thing he's had to do. He expressed regret over those deaths, but assured the mothers their losses were not in vain.
"You have given us the opportunity to remake our country into a decent place to live, a place to raise our children, (a) place of which we can be proud again, rather than cringe every time that we have to admit that we are Iraqis," he said. "Words of thanks seem to me to be insufficient to convey to you the thanks of a country, a grateful nation, which has lingered too long under tyranny.
"For me and for my country, our gratitude to the United States and to the sacrifices of its sons and daughters and its mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters and children, will be eternal," Istrabadi said.
After his speech, mothers who had lost children fighting in Iraq hugged Istrabadi and thanked him for his words. They almost didn't hear them, however, because he had considering canceling the appearance after his own mother recently fell ill.
Istrabadi said his mother urged him to keep his appointment. "(She said,) 'This event you are going to is extremely important. You must go,'" he said.