'I'm An Iraqi': A Family Attacked, A Brother Missing

Jun 22, 2014
Originally published on June 22, 2014 12:33 pm

Each week, Weekend Edition Sunday brings listeners an unexpected side of the news by talking with someone personally affected by the stories making headlines.

Iqbal al-Juboori is well acquainted with the ethnic tensions coming to a head in her home country of Iraq right now. In 2005, her family, who is Sunni, was attacked in their home and her brother was kidnapped simply because of his ethnicity, Juboori believes.

Her brother hasn't been seen since.

In 2006, her house was attacked again, she tells NPR's Lynn Neary, and they were told to leave in 24 hours or be killed.

"So you can imagine you feel that as an Iraqi, you get violated," she says. "You don't have a lot of rights."

Juboori says though they were dressed in what looked like military garb, it is unclear who attacked them and took her brother. They did, however, have a lot of information about her and the people in the house. When she was arguing with one of the men, he said to her, "Oh, you're that smart-mouth that works for the U.N."

Juboori now works for the aid group International Relief and Development, based in Washington, D.C., but visits Iraq periodically.

Last week, Juboori returned from a trip to her home country for business and to see her family in Baghdad. She says she still has hope for Iraq, and that the international community can come to its aid.

"There is always the hope; there is always the positive side that people will see reason," she says.

Juboori says the tragedy now is the estimated 1 million Iraqis who have been displaced from their homes because of the violence: women, children and elderly without food, water or a place to stay.

"This is what we need to focus on," she says. "I don't know if people really can imagine what it is to be forced to leave your house."

Like so many others with missing loved ones, Juboori says they go to the Ministry of Human Rights each month to try and find information on her missing brother. If anything, they hope to have some closure.

"Just knowing if he's dead or alive will help us," she says. "And this is what will happen and will continue to happen if the political situation is not resolved."

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IGBAL AL-JUBOORI: I am a Muslim. I do not say that I'm a Sunni Muslim. You know, that's my personal opinion. I just refuse to say Sunni and Shia. This is not who we are. I'm an Iraqi. And we should not be known as our ethnicity. What is our ethnicity?


Iqbal al-Juboori is well acquainted with the ethnic tensions coming to a head in her home country of Iraq. In 2005, her family home was attacked, and her brother was kidnapped. Al-Juboori's family believes they were targeted simply because of their Sunni background. Her brother hasn't been seen since. Al-Juboori now works as an aid worker based here in Washington. Last week, she returned from a trip to her home country. While she was there, the violence escalated quickly, and she found herself caught up in a conflict that people did not anticipate. Iqbal al-Juboori is our Sunday conversation.

AL-JUBOORI: When I flew to Iraq, there was literally no security - let's say hazards, as they say. There was no - there was tension. There were a lot of people talking about ISIS doing some raids on the roads from Erbil to Baghdad. But there was nothing concrete. And there was nothing to alert us to what happened, that Mosul fell down and then the other cities started falling one after the other. So it was - it was really a shock.

NEARY: Your family has gotten affected by these ethnic tensions and by these religious tensions.

AL-JUBOORI: Just like a lot of other Iraqis. Yes, I'm sad to say so.

NEARY: Can you tell us about that? And although you don't want to identify yourself as Sunni, can you explain, as you're talking about it, whether it is because your family is Sunni that these things happened?

AL-JUBOORI: I used to live in a multiethnic neighborhood, like - if you say, Sunni and Shia living together. And honest-to-goodness, there was never an indication that, you know, you would be recognized as a Sunni or a Shia. You were all living together peacefully. There was no problem. But 2006, with the violence that escalated in a lot of parts of the country, let's say the ethnic violence that escalated - I, personally, and a lot of other people have, you know, have seen a lot and went through a lot. My house was attacked in late December, 2005 and - as well as several houses in the neighborhood. And my brother was taken. And there were other men in the neighborhood who were taken for ethnic reasons, just because you are Sunni. And till this day, we don't know where they are. We have no clue. They left their families behind. My brother left four girls behind. And this happened all over, across the country. And then, in 2000 - late 2006, again they attacked our house. We were just a bunch of women, and they told us that we have, like, 24 hours to leave the house or get killed. So you can imagine, you feel that - as an Iraqi, you feel that you get violated. You don't have - you don't have a lot of rights.

NEARY: When your family's home was attacked in 2005 and 2006, who attacked it?

AL-JUBOORI: They were wearing military uniforms. And there were massive numbers. When we asked them to identify themselves, they refused. But they had, like, a lot of information on who - at that time, people in the neighborhood knew that I used to work in the UN. And when I was arguing with the officer, why are you taking my brother? By what right do you have, you know, coming to my house like that? He said, oh, you're the smart-mouth who works in the UN. So I cannot say who the forces are because I don't know. But they were military people. They had military cars - wearing military clothes.

NEARY: Government.

AL-JUBOORI: Government. They might be government.

NEARY: Your own family is still in Baghdad?


NEARY: They have not had to flee yet.

AL-JUBOORI: Fortunately not, but we are scared that with the fights coming closer to Baghdad, they might be - I hope that's not the case. But we will just have to watch out and see.

NEARY: Do you have any hope that Iraq will be able to survive as a single country?

AL-JUBOORI: There is always the hope. There is always the positive side, that people will see reason. Hopefully, with some international community pressure on all of the political parties, sitting down, hashing out all of the differences and stopping this madness before it escalates more. The tragedy of it is that, according to UNHCR, the internally displaced people, the people who have fled their homes because of the conflict, because of the fighting, has reached 1 million. We're seeing how those people are suffering. They have no food. They have no water. They don't have a place to stay. They don't have any shelter. There are children. There are women. There are elder people and those people who fled for their lives. This is what we need to focus on. I don't know if people really can imagine what it is to be forced to leave your house.

NEARY: And even with all the contacts you may have through the UN, you were not able to find out anything.

AL-JUBOORI: No. No, up till this day. It's like we do every month, we go and visit the Ministry of Human Rights to go and try to find him. And just like a lot of thousands, million mothers out there in Iraq, this what they do. This is what they live for - trying to find their sons. You know, just knowing if he's dead or alive will help us. If he's dead, then he's dead. That's it. But at least knowing what happened to him...And this is what will happen, and will continue to happen, if the political situation is not resolved.

NEARY: Iqbal al-Juboori is a senior stability and governance officer for the aid group International Relief and Development. Thanks so much for coming in.

AL-JUBOORI: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.