Yassin's Writing

Open Letter to President Talabani


Dear President Talabani,

How great and beautiful it is that I, an Iraqi citizen––even a Kurdish Iraqi––can write to the president directly! And that I feel I even have the right to criticize, without fear of being disappeared! This was not possible in the time of the dictator. Our dream for decades was to have the government and a president represent us, protect our rights, and care for us. Now, for the first time, we Kurds exist! Thank God the tyranny against our people in Iraq, especially in Kurdistan, is over––now Kurds are not second- and third-class citizens, and a Kurd is the president of Iraq. While a few years ago this would have been an unfulfilled dream, now it’s real; the dictator is gone and a new dawn is upon us in our great country.

You have a great responsibility and a big chance to show the world that the time of darkness, injustice, and humiliation in Iraq is over; it’s a new day and a new Iraq. The president is there for all citizens regardless of their race, ideas, party, or social status––he is there for all Iraqis, inside and outside the country.

I wrote a letter similar to this one to Kak Masoud Barzani, and all of what I said to Kak Masoud applies equally to you, because you are the Iraqi president now and I am an Iraqi citizen. I know and understand that the situation in Iraq is hard, and that there are many challenges and big problems, and that it will take time to end decades of war, injustice, and instability. But at the same time this should never justify what took place in our country. The Iraqi people paid the highest price, and they still don’t see the fruit of all their sacrifices. They expected real change in their lives, thought that law and justice would come, and wanted their country to be an example for peaceful modern life.

In the free world, no country neglects or accepts humiliation of its citizens, or allows any other government to target and persecute them. It’s possible and easy for everyone in Iraq to make excuses and pardon themselves for what has been happening, but that doesn’t change the fact that everyone is responsible and must do what he can. The president’s duty is to protect his citizens, their rights and their dignity, and restore the law and protect the Constitution.

It is sad that millions of our citizens are suffering and being humiliated in refugee camps. And many of our citizens are unfairly targeted and imprisoned, especially in neighboring countries. What has this new government done for them? You know that tens of thousands of our citizens are behind bars without a court order or any charges against them. Many of them have been tortured and are still being tortured! How can you accept that? What kind of change and freedom have you struggled for all your life? How can you accept being president of a country whose citizens have no rights? Is their blood cheaper than oil?

I believe you are really unhappy with the situation, and I know you are playing a great role in terms of reconciliation and unity. I know others have been trying to limit your power and authority, but your history and personality, not your title, are your power. You should not accept the humiliation of any of your citizens under any circumstances––you must protect their rights and dignity. You should take it upon yourself to learn how the people are doing, and let no one and nothing prevent you or separate you from the people. Living in a castle––or in the protected Green Zone––and leaving people to die everywhere, even in their homes and schools, with bodies on the streets, is not a good example of leadership!

Umar bin Khatab, when he was Caliph, used to walk through the city at night to see if there were any homeless people needing shelter or poor people needing food, and even when everything was going right he used to say, "Even if an animal is wronged under my authority, I am responsible for it." When Muetasam was Caliph in Baghdad, and he heard that an Iraqi woman was jailed in Rome, he sent the army to bring her back and then freed her. I certainly am not asking you to send in the army, and I do not want another war! But I am asking you: what you have done for me and for thousands of other citizens who are imprisoned and suffering in foreign jails––have you even heard about us?

What kind of friend and ally are you and your government to America while it targets your citizens and prosecutes them for their political benefit? I am just one example. Mr. President, I have been targeted, prosecuted, and jailed in America for being stateless. I have never committed any crime, I was never aware of any plan for one, and I never did or even said anything I should be in prison for––but no one is better and easier than a Kurd and an Iraqi immigrant to make a scapegoat for justifying a policy!

Did America ask your permission and inform you of this? Did America tell you what it was going to do to me ahead of time? Did America inform you after the fact? If it did, why and how could you accept this? At least you could have sent someone to interview me and find out who I was, and if America did not inform you either before or after, what kind of friend and ally is Iraq to America? Do you think anything similar can be done to a European or Australian citizen? Why not? Those countries respect their citizens and protect them––so what is the new government in the new Iraq doing about stateless Kurds and poor immigrants from the Middle East like me? Who will care about them, if not you? What about your ambassador in Washington: did he send you any reports about me and my case? Or is he busy with politics, and his politics had nothing to do with protecting Iraqi individuals and families, especially immigrants? I know that for many other foreign prisoners here, their ambassadors have sent someone to visit them, or they themselves came and visited them, wrote to them, or helped their families. And those countries are not even American allies––but they respect their citizens.

In Iraq up until now, no one knows for sure how many Iraqis have died; the gap between the “official” number of dead and the number from an independent organization is 800,000. Yes, dear Mr. President, I am talking about 800,000 Iraqi lives and bodies, not dollars! For decades, Iraqi dictators used thousands of Kurdish lives: brought them to a laboratory and tested all kind of chemicals on them, cut many others to pieces and sold their hearts or kidneys or other body parts. Millions of Iraqis––including me––fled our beloved country to avoid this fate and save our families––but look what happened to us!

It seems that the blood of millions of Iraqis has been spent in vain and there is no real change. We are not liberated until we have rights equal to any U.S. citizen’s. There is no way America would accept it if the Iraqi government did to its citizens what America has done to me. If you do nothing, it means that you accept and agree with what America has done––and if you do accept it, please don’t blame anyone when he wishes for the time of the dictator. In fact, there is no difference between the dictator and the present if Iraqi citizens have no rights, if the Iraqi government does not care and does not protect its citizens, if Iraqi blood is not sacred, if Iraqis are suffering. If Iraqis’ own government does not respect them, how will anyone else?

I believe it is my right to blame you more than the president of Kurdistan because:

1. All my life in Iraq I lived in the area controlled by your party (PUK), and thousands of my friends willingly gave their lives for independence. I grew up with them, I helped them, I loved them, and I knew when, where, and how their lives ended. I cannot forget them, and I feel that this new Iraq is not worthy of their sacrifices. It’s your duty to show that their blood was not spilled in vain.

2. Your own son, Mr. Qubad, is the Kurdish representative here in the U.S., and I believe he knows about my case, but he has never come to my aid, never sent someone to speak with me, and never spoken to my family, even just to ask who I am and what happened. Even if I were a criminal (which everyone knows I am not), my wife and children are clearly innocent, and they have the right to hear something from their representative!

3. Your government has good relations with America, and you have an ambassador in Washington. But what is he doing about my case?

4. I met you and spoke to you when you visited Syria in 1998. Of course you don’t remember me, but I remember what you told us. You assured us that the Iraqi regime would change because the American Congress had just approved support for the groups opposing Saddam! You turned out to be exactly right: Saddam is gone, there is a new government and president, the regime had changed, there is even a new flag––but the peoples’ lives are no better.

Dear Mr. President, are you aware that in the new Iraq:

- one million Iraqis have died and four million are refugees;
- more than 50,000 Iraqis are behind bars on the orders of your government or the American government, yet they have not been charged with any crime;
- torture is still used;
- children still die from lack of medicine and malnutrition;
- Iraqi life has no value and ethnic cleansing is rampant;
- fear, gun violence, poverty, and unemployment are spreading everywhere in the country;
- no one cares about the law, no one reads the Constitution, and Baghdad has become Mogadishu or Kabul, rather than London or New York.

Are those the changes you struggled for for fifty years? Are those the changes for which a million Kurds sacrificed? Iraqis deserve freedom and a better life, and it is your responsibility to do everything you can to obtain it for them.

Finally, I am sorry if this letter is not polite and some words are harsh. I hope you understand my situation, and certainly I have a great deal of respect for you and your history of struggle, but it’s hard for me to read every day in the newspapers and hear in the media that Kurds are the best allies and friends to America, because in America I am a victim twice over: first of the American government, which ruined my life and my family by making me a scapegoat to justify some of their policies; and second, of many Muslims, who look at all Kurds as betrayers and American workers. I hope you will not accept this.

I am looking forward to seeing what my government will do for me, and what my president is going to order on my behalf. My hope is also to see peace, justice, and freedom in our beloved country and in the world. I pray to God to keep you healthy and to help you bring all of Iraq’s people together and end their suffering. The Iraqi people deserve to get their rights back, and to live peacefully with honor and freedom.

Be safe and do your best for our country.

Yassin Aref
USP Marion
P.O. Box 1000
Marion, Illinois 62959


May 21, 2009

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