21 December 2009
IRAQ: Sabir’s Story
by Peggy Gish
Looking at this tall young man of twenty, one could not immediately tell he had undergone two surgeries for multiple wounds he sustained in an Iranian shelling attack four and a half months earlier. We were in the Kurdish village of Zhelea, in the far northeast corner of Iraq, near the Iranian border. As we sat around a cylindrical wood stove in the middle of the simple stone dwelling, Sabir told his story.
Along with others in his family, he was staying in a tent in the mountain area of Megamier (about twelve km by air from Iranian border) during the three months of summer grazing for their sheep, goats and cows—their main source of their income. At 9:00 p.m., on 18 July 2009, about eighteen Iranian rockets landed in that area. One exploded in front of their tent, and shrapnel cut Sabir’s neck, shoulder and armpit, as well as damaging the family car. Family members rushed him to the emergency hospital in Erbil (Hawler in Kurdish) for treatment.
“Sometimes I can’t move my neck and shoulder very well, and sometimes I have no feeling in that area,” he said. Because of pain in his head, neck, arm, and shoulder area, he is not able to study or work. He no longer attends 7th Grade, because his pain becomes more severe in the cold schoolroom.
The ongoing shelling from Iran, past bombing from Turkey, and Turkish surveillance planes currently flying over the area, continue to affect the lives of the family.
The children have been terrified. The family lost about fifty animals and $8,000 each year, about half of their annual income, because of the bombings. For the last four years, they no longer feel safe taking their animals to the mountains to graze, so they buy feed. They no longer go to certain mountains to collect firewood or gather mushrooms and herbs in the springtime. Years ago, Sabir’s father lost a leg to land mines on a mountain, likely planted in the 1980’s during the Iran-Iraq war.
In 2007, the U.S. began giving intelligence information to Turkey for its bombing operations. Since that time, bombing and shelling have intensified and the area attacked has spilled over into populated areas. Local leaders and villagers told us they saw a pattern of coordination between Turkey’s and Iran’s attacks. They wondered why their village is systematically bombed, since it is eighteen km from the higher border mountains where rebel camps are based.
“Our government has not been caring for us!” Sabir lamented. His family has not received financial compensation or help with medical costs. The care he receives comes only from his extended family, gathered in the room while we visited. He sat tall and calm as he spoke of the challenges he and his family, as well as villagers all along the mountain border areas face—people who simply want to continue their traditional way of life in their ancestral home.