Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Comment: A Child of War

A boy who dreamed of life as a Kurdish warrior is now a man, and seeks an end to Iraq’s incessant wars.
By IWPR

My grandfather used to tell me with great pride the stories of wars he had seen in his lifetime.


As a child I envied him, a man who had heroically defended the Kurdish homeland against the mighty Ottomans and then against the powerful British.


He revelled in the glory of his wars. Brandishing his Brno-made rifle, he would say, "I’ve used this to kill many Ottomans and Englishmen."


I was in awe, and wished I could have been in his place.


But in my short life, I have already seen so many wars that if my grandfather were alive, he might wish to be in my place.


Wars and instability are part and parcel of every Iraqi's life, but the Kurds always seem to have the largest share. Not only did we have to fight Saddam's wars for him, we also fought against his genocidal army, and even against one other.


My grandfather's wars seemed noble. Mine seem sadly wasteful, leaving behind broken lives, not proud stories.


Our recent history rests on violence, the domestic or external wars that mark out the significant dates in our lives. We talk of a parent who died not in 1987, but towards the end of the Iran-Iraq war. We speak of a child who was born not in 1992, but just after the Kuwait war. We talk of starting university not in 1997, but near the end of the internecine conflict between the two Kurdish parties.


As a child, I thought I would grow up to be like my grandfather. I imagined that as my hair greyed and my skin grew wrinkled, I would wear the traditional Kurdish sharwals, or baggy trousers, and fire my grandfather's gun at anyone I came up against.


My hair may indeed grow grey and my skin may age, and I may yet wear the sharwals.


But I have no desire for violence, no desire to shoot any weapon at any man. I will tell no glorious war stories to my children.


During last year's war, as families yet again fled the main towns in Kurdistan in fear of a final bombardment by the forces of Saddam Hussein, I took refuge in an underground shelter.


I sat beside a child who had drawn a picture of a passenger plane under the inscription, "I can travel". The plane was dropping bombs.


I asked her how a passenger aircraft could carry bombs. "Is there any plane that does not drop bombs?" she asked.


Kurdish children are only children physically. Their little bodies hold the grief of a lifetime.


Some have lost parents, and are forced into the role of breadwinner at an early age. Some were born of war, in basements and bomb shelters, as their parents trembled in fear. Others were born in flight or in squalid refugee camps in Turkey and Iran. Some are not even sure when they were born - they know only that when “war X” started, they were six months or three years old.


Many did not have birth certificates issued until years after they were born – after their family had returned to Iraqi Kurdistan and could register their entry into this world.


I once met a boy who had an Iraqi identity card which bears on red letters saying "Qadisiyyah Army". All children born in 1990 were issued IDs commemorating the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Qadisiyyah was the historic 7th century battle between the then Persian rulers of current Iraq and the Muslim Arabs. The regime called the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war the “second Qadisiyyah” in an attempt to portray the Iranians as defeated unbelievers, like their ancestors.


"I am from the Qadisiyyah army," the child with the ID boasted. "No man can stand against me."


Saddam's Qadisiyyah army is no more. And the child is now a man, and perhaps more circumspect in his claims.


And I hope to be able to claim to my children that I helped rebuild my country. I will tell them how I proudly fought for Kurdish rights in a new Iraq - with my pen.


Jamal Penjweny is an IWPR trainee in Sulaimaniyah.