Iraq 10 Years On: A Decade After War Was Declared, One Iraqi Student Explains Why It Was Worth It

Mohamed Ali al-Badri (inset) is now living and studying in the UK, after his parents fled Iraq
Mohamed Ali al-Badri (inset) is now living and studying in the UK, after his parents fled Iraq

For many of today's students, Britain's declaration of war on Iraq is a moment in time which has already been consigned to history books.

Many will have barely left primary school when UK and US troops were deployed to Iraq. But for one university student, Mohamed Ali al-Badri, the atrocities inflicted by Saddam Hussein's reign over his homeland are all too memorable.

"Both my uncles were executed and my father was tortured," he says in a matter-of-fact tone. Although Al-Badri's story is horrifying to hear now, for ordinary Iraqis, violence under Saddam's regime was common.

"My father still looks as if he has just come out of prison," the 19-year-old says. "He has huge scar on his back, his upper back is black from electricity torture, his knuckles on one hand are inverted from someone smashing them with a hammer and he has a dent in his head from being attacked. Not to mention the psychological torture he was subjected to."

The King's College London physics student has lived in the UK for seven years, after his parents fled Iraq.

"My father and my uncle worked for the Al Dawa party against the government," Al-Badri explains. "They were involved in a plot to kill Saddam in 1981 but after it failed they were both arrested. Officers raided my uncle's house and killed my aunt, who was just 18 at the time. They just shot her dead and left her there."

Al-Badri's uncle, along with the 10 others involved in the plot were all executed, something his family did not discover until more than two decades later. Al-Badri's father had a relatively lucky escape. Five years after his arrest he was released from prison, following years of torture. "He never confessed to anything," Al-Badri adds. "Which I think was quite heroic."

His father's release was secured by Max van der Stoel, a Dutchman who monitored Saddam's human right abuses for the United Nations, although Al-Badri admits he's "not quite sure how he did it".

"After he left prison, he set up a business and started working in the Al Dawa ring again," Al-Badri continues. "In 1991, he married my mother, who had a very similar background."

Al-Badri's maternal uncle had also been arrested and executed under Saddam's regime. "She had 12 siblings and many were constantly interrogated at school or university."

In 1994, a year after Al-Badri was born, his parents fled to Jordan with false papers. Boarding an aeroplane to Slovenia, the pair destroyed their papers, meaning all three were arrested upon landing.

"We were all put into a cell at the airport," Al-Badri remembers. "The Slovenians tried to send us back to Turkey, where we would have then been sent back to Iraq where we faced certain execution.

"We were forced onto a passenger aeroplane on our own. The whole way there my parents were crying and praying the aeroplane would explode en route to Turkey. They didn't want to go back to Iraq and see what they had already seen. There had been a family in our neighbourhood who had had a son my age who's brains were splattered across a wall by an Iraqi officer.

"My father had seen how other female inmates had been treated and he didn't want that happening to my mother."

"We were sent back to Turkey, but when we arrived there were told they wouldn't take us either, so back we went to Slovenia.

"My father knew a United Nations meeting was taking place while we were at the Slovenian airport. As the delegates were getting off the aeroplane, he ran across the airfield to attract their attention in the hope they would ask what was going on. He was that desperate."

Al-Badri's father's efforts were rewarded; the family was allowed to stay and were sent to a refugee camp in Slovenia, where they received a telephone call "out of the blue".

"It turns out to be an old friend of my father's who worked in Austria and used to smuggle refugees through the Austrian borders," Al-Badri recounts.

"He told us to wear as many clothes as we possible could and escape the camp as a car would be waiting for us to take us to Austria. From Austria, we walked to Germany, without any guidance.

"My parents thought our best chance was to get to the Netherlands, as they thought there may be someone there who could help us. During the journey, my parents made a pact that if one of them died on the way, the other would take me back to Austria or Slovenia, so I would have a future and wouldn't die with them."

Luckily, the family arrived safely in Germany and then travelled to the Netherlands where they met their Los Angeles contact.

"We had one or two days to rest before my parents went to a police station to hand themselves in and tell their story. They were heavily questioned.

"My father was able to give very specific information about what had been happening in the Iraq prisons. Just looking at him, even now, you can tell he's spent time in there. We got citizenship straight away, there and then.

"We didn't tell them the journey we'd taken to get to the Netherlands. This is the first time our story has ever been told to someone outside our family. We told the police we'd been transported in a lorry, not that I think they believed it."

The family stayed in the Netherlands for 11 years and Al-Badri's parents had another two children. But in 2003, they went back to Iraq.

"We naively thought, Saddam Hussein's lost control, everything will be fine and so we returned home. In the three months I was there, I woke up to a bombs exploding every morning," Al-Badri says. "Chinook helicopters were flying incredibly close to our house.

"I still remember the day he was caught. I was on the rooftop in Baghdad playing with some pigeons. All of a sudden I heard shots being fired into the distance, getting louder and louder. People were laughing, crying, screaming. Everything around us went mad. Saddam Hussain had been caught.

"We loved the Americans at that point. Everyone was chanting 'yes yes America' and 'yes yes Bush' in the streets because we so wanted rid of Hussein."

A US Marine watches a statue of Saddam Hussein being toppled in Firdaus Square, in downtown Bagdhad, on 9 April 2003

The Al-Badri family also travelled to Al-Sader City, which Al-Badri says was "the safest place I went to".

"It was full of insurgents but it was the only place I could leave the house as a 10-year-old without carrying a knife. When we were staying in Baghdad, there was an extreme rise in kidnappings of European children so I only left the house once, and I had to carry a really big knife.

"But in Al-Sader City I could just roam around. It was full of Iraqis carrying AK47s but they were protecting everyone in the area so we all felt safe."

So why did his family leave Iraq?

"Things just weren't right," Al-Badri says. "We left Iraq after three months and returned to the Netherlands. A few years later, we came to the UK."

And finally, the million dollar question. Was the war worth it?

"Yes," replies Al-Badri. "I supported the war, but I did not want the US and the UK to stay. They wanted to keep their hands in our business.

"I remember most of the people I knew backed the anti-American stance the Mehdi army took. There was a rise in suicide bombings. Before you know it, the US and the UK are the enemy.

"I'm supportive of having a democracy in Iraq, but it's very mediocre. It's not good enough. There seems to be resistance outside Iraq against improvement and I find this very sad. Unfortunately there is also no-one in the Iraqi government returning my country to normal.

"The 10 year anniversary means the world to me," Al-Badri concludes. But he adds: "I don't really have a home. My parents did not speak English when we came here, we were homeless in Leeds. I have had to represent my parents from a very young age.

"I would love to go back to Iraq. I feel a sense of belonging that it is my home, without even ever having lived there."