According to the organization Human Rights Watch, more than a quarter of a million people “disappeared’ in Iraq during the regime of Saddam Hussein. Many were arrested, imprisoned without charges, their fate unknown. With the regime change in Iraq, many families are continuing their search for answers, hoping now to find their relatives. Betty Van Etten spoke with members of one Shiite Muslim Kurdish family also known as Fayli Kurds, who were deported to Iran under the pretext they say of being of Iranian descent. Left behind were three sons, detained in prison, the Morad brothers.
“We also now still we have hope, maybe one day we listen to our sons, just pray to God, help us,” says Munira Morad.
With the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, Mrs. Morad and her husband Hamid Morad, are hoping to locate their three missing sons. They are Shiite Muslim Kurds also known also known as Fayli Kurds. Human Rights Watch says more than 10,000 Fayli Kurd men disappeared in Iraq in the 1980s as their families were deported to Iran.
“During the war between Iran and Iraq, the Iraqi government started to gather us and deported the old men, the women and the children to the border of Iran," said Mr. Morad. "Confiscated all our wealth, all our ID’s, citizenship everything."
In 1982 Mr. Morad says he and his son Samir were detained. Then he was deported and his son, Samir, imprisoned. “He was in the Iraqi Air Force, radio operator,” Mr. Morad said.
In 1984, Iraqi security forces once again paid a visit to the remaining members of the Morad family in Iraq. “Ten o’clock, morning. They bring jail car, don’t have window, no light box," said Mrs. Morad. "When I saw them I understand this car from in jail.”
Athir, the youngest son, who along with his parents now lives in Virginia, was then a six-year-old school boy. He was taken into custody along with his mother and two other brothers.
“And the principal said there are these two men and they want to speak with you and they looked like typical Baathist men with mustaches and they led me to police vehicle outside and opened the back of it," said Athir. "When I went in my mom was in it with a bunch of suitcases around her.”
The Iraqi security agents also picked up Athir’s two brothers, Namir, and Bahir who had just finished medical college. “This one is Doctor Bahir with his brother, Namir, who was first grade of college of technology,” said Mr. Morad.
“I remember Bahir the most," said Athir. "He spoke most honestly with me. [He said] ‘We might be taken to prison soon, you might be separated from mom soon. Be a big boy you know.’”
Athir and his mother were deported to Iran. Namir and Bahir were detained. “They kept them as hostages for fear of, they thought, maybe if they go out to Iran or somewhere else they will fight Iraqi government,” Mr. Morad said.
In 1985, Mr. Morad, his wife and Athir left Iran for the U.S. Even from so far away, they tried to find out about the three brothers, but secretly, Mrs. Morad says, because they were afraid of Saddam.
“Or course scared. He’s ruthless," Mrs. Morad said. "We think maybe if we did something here, he kill them. You be quiet. But make something, secret. We go to Red Cross, we in touch with Congressman, many things, State Department.”
The Morads were able to get news of their sons from friends who visited them in jail. But one year later in 1986, the visits were stopped, that window was suddenly closed.
“Last time they said to them, ‘This is your last time to come to visit.’ So they sent letter to us with pictures and it was the last time, in 1986," Mr. Morad said.”
The years went by. In the mid 1990’s, a former Iraqi detainee told the family that Bahir had given him medical help in prison and that Namir was with him.
“I asked him, 'How about our other son, Samir?' He said, 'No.' The reason, Iraqi government put military hostages, different place, military base called Al Rasheed," Mr. Morad said.
Through the years of not knowing, Hamid and Munira Morad have led quiet lives. No restaurants, no movies, no celebrations. “We encourage ourselves just to stay alive, they will need us,” Mr. Morad said.
Athir says he has led a more serious life than most kids his age and perhaps a more purposeful one. He graduated from Washington D.C.’s Georgetown University and just completed medical school at the University of Virginia. Along the way, he received numerous honors.
“I feel driven for many reasons I guess primarily my biggest reason is to turn a bad situation into a positive one. But also Saddam took so much from us. He took my brothers," Athir said. "He took our property, He took my identification, I don’t have any childhood pictures because of what he did and I didn’t want him to take away my future.”
Mr. Morad added, “Hope we can find them very soon...now”