‘I’ll never forget’: Woman shares painful memories of imprisonment during Iraqi invasion

By Nebal Snan

KUWAIT: It was just another hot summer day in 1990 when Naema Al-Yaqout’s life was forever changed. Sitting at home with her family, Naema, a young mother of a six-month-old girl at the time, first heard that the Iraqi army had launched an attack on Kuwait in the early hours of the day at Saddam Hussein’s orders. Naema’s father didn’t allow the terrible news to shake up his sons and daughters. “My father said we should all go to work (as usual). … We all did,” she recalled. Naema, who worked as an infectious disease nurse, came from a family of servicemen – her half-brother Sami served in the air force and her three brothers — Waleed, Adnan and Hani — were members of the National Guard and the Kuwaiti army.

The three brothers played football professionally, Naema said as she affectionately looked through old photos of them – both Adnan and Hani played with the Arabi team, while Waleed played with Sulaibikhat and Kuwait’s national team. Nearly 35 years after the photos were taken, Naema and her siblings have become heroes who risked and lost their lives for their country. “I’ll never forget what I saw. Thank God Kuwait is back … My brothers were martyred and made us proud. They sacrificed their lives for our homeland,” she said in tears. Naema was captured by Iraqi forces four months into the invasion, during which she was subjected to multiple forms of torture and wasn’t given anything to eat beyond crusty bread and tea.

She recounts being held in a shed and not being allowed to change out of her clothes. The difficult times Naema lived through were all worth it for the sake of Kuwait, she said. ‘We couldn’t sleep’ Soon after the onset of the invasion, Waleed, Adnan and Hani joined the Kuwaiti resistance movement, which engaged in both armed and non-violent acts of defiance to deter the Iraqi invaders. Naema continued to report to work – as a nurse, she was given a permit that allowed her to go out during curfew hours and obligated Iraqi soldiers to let her pass without inspecting her vehicle at checkpoints. “I used to help my brothers. I would help them with transferring weapons from Sulaibikhat (where they lived) to Khaldiya,” she said.

Naema’s three brothers were captured in October at their home in Sulaibikhat after it was raided by intelligence forces while they slept. It was at a time when Iraq’s occupation army was intensifying its crackdown on Kuwaiti resistance. Nearly two months later, on Dec 14, Naema’s home was once again surrounded by Iraqi intelligence officers. Leaving her baby daughter behind, Naema was brought in for interrogation at a site that was taken over by Iraqi soldiers in Jahra. “I could hear my brothers’ voices there,” she said clutching documents proving her brothers were martyrs. “(The Iraqis) would tell me that they were not there, although I was sure they were.”

Naema said she was tortured and humiliated while in capture as officers tried to coerce her into admitting her brothers were with the Kuwaiti resistance. “They put me in a small office where they interrogated me every minute from 10 pm until 4 am,” she said. Naema recalled being forcefully injected with illicit drugs and electrocuted. “The torture room was next to the holding cells. We couldn’t sleep as prisoners screamed in pain. They had no consideration for anyone, whether they were men or women.” The last meeting Despite the pain, Naema vehemently denied that her brothers were involved with the resistance. She was later taken to the Mashatel area, where the army had set up a detention camp.

Naema remembers seeing young men and women, who were with the resistance, hung on trees as a form of torture. After spending some time at a juvenile correctional facility in Firdous, which was under Iraqi siege, Naema was finally transported to Basra in Iraq. At the Basra detention camp, Naema said she met with several Kuwaitis – entire families, including women and children – who had been imprisoned. “We stayed there until the air attack,” she said, referring to the aerial bombing campaign carried out by coalition air forces from Jan 17 to Feb 23, 1991 against Iraq. The POWs, she added, were taken to military sites where the Iraqi army expected air strikes.

Naema said they were used as human shields. It was also the first and last time she saw her brothers since she was captured. “They didn’t know I was there,” she said, quietly sobbing. Overcome with emotion, Naema said she was separated from her brothers as prisoners were distributed to multiple military sites – Naema was taken to Najaf, while her brothers were transported to Baghdad. Although the air campaign marked the beginning of the end for Saddam Hussein’s invasion, Naema, who was imprisoned for four and half months in total, still couldn’t go home. She was still in Iraq when Kuwait was liberated in 1991. In March 1991, following Iraq’s defeat, ethnic and religious uprisings against the Iraqi president took the country by storm.

The revolt lasted from March to April 1991 after a ceasefire following the end of the invasion. During that time, Neama was rotated through multiple detention camps, including the Diwaniya camp, until she was brought back to Najaf. “The (opposition groups) liberated us,” she said, referring to the 18 men, eight women and four children, with whom she was held capture. The prisoners stayed in hiding for a few days with an Iraqi man and his Lebanese wife who owned a restaurant in Sharq at the time.

“We were smuggled in trucks used for transporting cattle all the way to Liwaa Al-Shaheed (martyrs’ brigade). … That’s where we were handed over to coalition forces who brought us back to Kuwait,” she recounted. “When we entered Kuwait, we couldn’t see anything. We couldn’t tell if it was nighttime or daytime,” Naema said, likely referring to the thick black smoke that covered Kuwait after Iraqi forces deliberately set over 700 oilwells ablaze before retreating, causing one of the world’s worst environmental crises. Keeping their memory alive While physically safe, Naema’s mental health suffered on her return due to what she endured.

“I went for treatment (in Kuwait) and Sheikh Salem, may Allah have mercy on him, sent me for further therapy to Egypt … I’m back to normal, thanks to Allah.” The brothers remained missing until 2004, when Naema’s half-brother received a call that revealed their fate. “Waleed, Adnan and Hani were found in mass graves in Samawa. Hani – multiple shots in the head, neck, chest, and right lower limb. Waleed and Adnan – just one shot to the head,” Naema said as she read from the three brothers’ death certificates.

On a bench next to the entrance of her home, Naema proudly displays her three brothers’ photos to keep their memory alive. She said she makes sure her daughter, who was too young to remember what happened, knows who they are. “I always show her photos of her uncles and tell her: ‘These are your uncles…young men who sacrificed (their lives) for Kuwait to come back to us,” she said crying.

The post ‘I’ll never forget’: Woman shares painful memories of imprisonment during Iraqi invasion appeared first on Kuwait Times.

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