Interviewing Mayada Al-Askari
Mayada, Daughter of Iraq
One Woman's Survival Under Saddam Hussein
Let's Start With Your Work News
- Q: How is life treating you these days? How are your children, Fay and Ali, doing?
A: I am well, and I thank God for that every day, my daughter Fay is here with me in the United Arab Emirates where I work in the Dubai Internet City as the Business Development Manager in a publishing and IT firm.
Fay studied graphic design for two years in Jordan, but wants to change her major to be a TV anchor, and she is taking an intensive course for that in Dubai.
My son, Ali, lives in Jordan, and is in his second year in the American University in Amman, studying Management Information Systems.
- Q: You said you have a weekly program on Al-Fayhaa TV station. Can you tell us more about the program?
A: Al-Fayhaa TV Channel is an Iraqi Satellite channel that works in Ajman in the United Arab Emirates. My program is a magazine that takes viewers to Iraq, through past, present and future issues, covering all aspects of life in Iraq.
Al-Fayhaa is a TV channel that is the complete opposite of the Al-Jazeera TV channel, it is very Iraqi and conveys the opinion of the Iraqi individual rather than the opinion of our Arab brothers that consider terrorist acts carried out against Iraqis as heroic acts of resistance.
- Q: How does it feel to be back to journalism?
A: It feels great, especially that there is an added bonus of being able to express your thoughts in a completely democratic environment. We can criticize our very beloved president "Uncle Jalal" as every one calls him, and we will not find ourselves in prison the next day.
- Q: You worked as a journalist for many years under Saddam's regime. As a journalist, what is the difference between working then and now for the Iraqi media and press?
A: It is sad to report here that our relief and happiness in this new found democracy in Iraq is tarnished by the daily terrorist acts. It is very sad that the terrorists have chosen Iraq as their battle ground to fight the USA.
I hope one day , all this will end, and Iraq will be the symbol of progress and democracy in all the Arab homeland.
The Book, "Mayada Daughter of Iraq"
NOTE: I won't ask many questions related to the book as I'm sure each question will open an old wound. I also don't want to spoil it for the people who haven't read it yet.
- Q: The foremost question on my mind: Have you heard from Samara and the shadow women who were imprisoned with you in cell 52 at Al-Baladiyat prison?
A: No, and I have many doubts about their whereabouts and I really do not have a clue if any of the other women made it out. I was told a few days ago that all political prisoners were executed before the war in a few weeks .
A few weeks ago, an American soldier wrote an e-mail through Jean Sasson from the Baladiyat Prison complex, which is now called Camp Faithful. She said that most of the buildings have been leveled and when the US troops came in, the buildings were completely empty. That detention center, one of the biggest in the Middle East, had more than 1000 prison cells and hundreds of interrogation rooms. It also had living quarters for officers and two hospitals.
Many prisoners were killed and buried without the knowledge of their families, and the sort of original footage rushes I see at the TV station where I have my weekly program will make one weep for weeks. I escaped from Iraq in 1999 and I have not heard or seen any of the women whom I shared cell 52 with.
- Q: During your work as a journalist in Iraq, you were once invited with other journalists by the office of Ali Hassan Al-Majid to witness what I would describe as torture and humiliation of human beings in public. Could you compare that torture to the treatment he's receiving now from the Iraqi justice system?
A: I was invited alone, as Ali Hassan Al-Majid did not like journalists. People in Iraq under the Baathist regime were executed without seeing the face of a lawyer, with no trial and no legal representation, people were tortured and a great many died under torture then found out to be completely innocent.
Saddam , and his lieutenants are being treated with respect, and according to the Geneva convention laws. I heard that Ali Al-Majid told the judge: why not execute us and get it over with ?!!
This is how they comprehend things, and they would repeat all their deeds again if given half a chance.
A friend of mine in Iraq was guarding a military facility back in 1991, and Ali Hassan Al Majid came in to see the military prisoners, he made all the prisoners drink gasoline, then had them shot in the stomach where they were all set to fire.
I can go on talking to you about this for days, just to make everyone realize that the new system is a more human system than the previous one, and in all reality, we cannot even make a comparison between the two.
- Q: What are your thoughts about how Saddam was found hiding in a hole after his regime collapsed? What do you think about a family member informing authorities of the location of his sons Uday and Qusay?
A: Most Iraqis think that he was not found in a hole, that he was gassed and dragged out of a house on the outskirts of Baghdad, as he did not have the personality of one to hide in such a manner, and it is also known about him to be a person concerned with his personal hygiene, but what we saw was the exact contrary, in addition to the date twig hanging on the palm tree outside the "hole" on the 13th of December, which was the major give away to the whole story, as we Iraqis know that no dates stay on palm trees more than October at the latest, but here was Saddam's palm tree in December with FRESH dates ???, and to tell you the truth, it does not matter where and how they found him, he is a mere criminal that will face a fair trial, he was encouraged by many previous US administrations to carry on the way he did and I think this is a shame as every one used Iraq in the eight year war against Iran, and I am happy that the US fell out with Saddam, but who knows who they will support tomorrow??!
The important issue here is that he succeeded in destroying generations of Iraqis, and now with the US troops in Iraq bumping around without a plan, I can see many people saying, "well maybe it was better under that bastard," which is so very sad.
As for his twosome gruesome, Uday and Qusay, well why not, I mean they were like roaches killing their brothers-in-law, killing left right and center, it was the norm, the "accepted conduct," so why not "expire" on the hands of another relative?!!
- Q: How is it going with the book translation into Arabic?
A: I have completed the translation of the Arabic version of the book and I am waiting for the ISBN no. to be issued in Abu Dhabi-UAE.
Iraqi Women Issues
- Q: What do you think of the Iraqi constitution committee's struggle to give Iraqi women their proper rights?
A: It is very sad, as we had complete freedom as women under Saddam. We had equal wages, the right to dress as we pleased and every other right a man had in those days, with an additional preference, unheard of in other Arab countries. Of course we were taken to prison and tortured exactly like men too!!!
- Q: Does it surprise you to see Iraqi women who are for Islamic Sharia Law?
A: Not at all. You are free to choose your religion, your political beliefs, the way you dress, and the south of Iraq has always been conservative. I would be surprised if they did not choose the Sharia.
It is very intelligent of Bush not to interfere in this aspect of Iraqi life. If he were to interfere, he would face a situation that would make the Sunni stubborn stances in Iraq look like child play.
- Q: How do you see the future of Iraqi women in 10 years?
A: I hope to see all of Iraq in the best shape ever in 10 years time, let's hope that will happen.
- Q: What would be a major point of advice you'd give to a young Iraqi girl in Iraq?
A: Now that is a very difficult question, taking into consideration the living hell every one is going through nowadays in Iraq. I talk to friends in Iraq on an almost daily basis and I'm currently working on a project about the ongoing situation since the downfall of the Baathist regime in Iraq, and I find that both men and women are facing death every second of their existence.
I always hear them tell me, "when we leave home, we say our goodbyes as no one knows for sure if we will live to see each other again."
I have no advise to give just very concerned feelings and prayers.
American Policies In Iraq
- Q: What is the most important policy you think the US should alter, do away with, or implement in regards to the new Iraq and the insurgency?
It will be a sarcastic answer on my part if I say, take your soldiers elsewhere in the world and that will solve the problem for Iraq.
- Q: Do you think there was another way to remove Saddam without using the war option?
A: No, there was no other way, but "the day after" could have been conducted in a more efficient and caring way.
The Ministry of oil in Baghdad was protected in a beautiful manner, why wasn't everything else protected in the same manner?
Why is electricity in Iraq today worse than the days of Saddam?
Why is the water condition worse today?
Why not guard installations like the Ministry of Oil is guarded?
Why not make all of Iraq an exact replica of the "Green Zone" in Baghdad?!
- Q: What do you feel are the root causes of terrorism?
- The President of the United States said in one of his speeches that he is "taking" the war against terrorism to "other" places to protect the USA, so I guess this is one cause.
- Not all Iraqis will tolerate the existence of foreign troops on their land, even if those troops are "dying" to go back home.
- In relation to no.1 I truly believe that 90% of terrorists are Qaida and other groups that would have become very active anywhere, as long as US troops where there on that land. Look at all the explosions that take place in Iraq, it is either where Iraqi Military personnel are gathered, or places where they take buses from, or around the green zones where US troops are located, or where US vehicles travel, of course you do not hear about the exact numbers of American people killed every day because they are "contractors" paid to be with the US army. Very few explosions take place around 100% residential areas.
Iraq and The Arab World
- Q: Why do you think most of the Arab world didn't lend a helping hand to the Iraqi people during the last two years?
A: Because simply Saddam was very kind to Arabs, and most of them have seen nothing but his charismatic Arab leader image. While the face of the USA in almost all Arab minds is that of a country that backs Israel and is dominated by the Zionists.
- Q: Do you think Iraqi public opinion about their current situation is different from those in the wider Arab world?
A: How would you feel when you are promised paradise and get nothing but hell? Even after the down fall of the regime, the US did nothing to hold the place with a fist of Iron. And believe me, the situation was exactly like a naughty class room with a new teacher, if that teacher was incompetent, lenient and not in complete control, then all hell would break loose in that classroom. I go back to my initial idea, there was no ready after war plan.
- Q: Do you have any ideas about how those of us in the West can help the Iraqi situation without drawing a large amount of criticism from those opposed to all Western intervention?
A: Yes, you can work on policy makers inside the US, asking them for real plans for Iraq.
- Q: How could Iraqis defeat terrorists on their land?
A: It will all end when the US army leaves.
- Q: Do you think it's possible for Iraqis to forget their differences and unite under one Iraq? If so, what would it take for this to happen?
Iraq is a multi ethnic place, one religion, an Arab majority, a Shite majority, and in spite of the all efforts of "foreign" forces in Iraq trying to initiate a civil war, they are bumping into a brick wall, which means the problem is not such a big one.
Arab tribes that make up the majority of the Iraqi society are all split in two, meaning, all tribes have a Sunni section and another Shia section, which means major differences are nonexistent.
As you are well aware too, Muslims of all sects, Arabs, Kurds, Turkmens, Chaldo-Assyrians and other minorities have lived together since BC times.
- Q: How do you envision Iraq in five years?
A: I hope, but do not envision, as the end of this tunnel looks very bleak with another 4 years of the US army in Iraq. By the way, I honestly wish that US policy makers do understand that the US army itself is a truly "good" army, but the contractors inside that army are the cause of many many many sad stories.
I hope you enjoyed Mayada's interview and the other interviews and opinions of Iraqi women I post on this blog.