“Iconic face of the Iraq War Ali Abbas on his emotional wedding to childhood sweetheart”
This story is several months old but someone just linked it to my Facebook page. A happy ending to a lot of suffering, loss, uncertainty and personal trauma.
Ali lost 16 members his family, including both his parents, and both his arms and suffered third degree burns to 70% of his body when a missile slammed into his house on the outskirts of Baghdad when he was twelve.
I first saw him in a decrepit hospital in the Sader City slum of northern Baghdad after a neighbour rescued from his burning home.
When I first entered the room I could not even tell if he was alive, and I did not think he was going to live for long.
The doctors told us he would not survive without proper treatment and, with most of his skin burnt, he was highly susceptible to infections in the unsanitary conditions of the hospital he was in.
There had been several attempts to extricate him from there after his plight made world headlines but there were all sorts of complications and efforts to relocate him had failed.
By chance, I was able to arrange for Kuwaiti authorities to accept him, paving the way for American forces to get involved and Peter convinced them to remove and transport him to Kuwait.
The story and details about securing his release from the hospital and removing from there is a long and harrowing one.
Suffice it to say it took several days of coordinating between the hospital, the US military, Kuwaiti health authorities and a local Shi’ite cleric with political ambitions who took the situation to heart and complicated things as much as he could.
We found ourselves driving from the relative security of the Palestine Hotel in central Baghdad (within the ‘secure’ zone held by US forces) to the Sader City, a grim, rough and dangerous suburb north of the city. We had to go back and forth at all hours, through numerous checkpoints manned my militias and local vigilantes and with the constant sound of sporadic gun battles and burning building all around us. Baghdad at the time was still a full blown warzone.
This happened juts days after we were released from captivity by Iraq’s secret police. More on this here and in Peter’s book. We were all practically in shock and suffering the onset of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Something that lived inside Peter John and myself to varying degrees and manifestations for years to come.
I met Ali again years later in London and he looked so well and grown. It was another person altogether from the charred limbless and dying child I’d first seen in Baghdad.
The morning after he was airlifted, Peter and I had to make the 14 hour drive south from Baghdad to Kuwait because we’d promised Ali’s family to call back and tell them he was safe. We’d also had to promise the sheikh to report Ali’s safe arrival.
The harrowing drive, the Iraq venture and capture are stories, as they say, for another time.