Baghdad – When Leila Nasser was six months pregnant, U.S. soldiers burst into her house and wrestled away her husband, Mohammed Amin, who was asleep on the roof, trying to escape the summer heat.
This week, Nasser waited outside whatâ€™s now called the â€œreconciliation hallâ€ in Baghdadâ€™s Jihad neighborhood for Amin to appear. In her arms she cradled her year-old son, whom sheâ€™d named Moubin, the Iraqi word for apparent.
â€œI called him Moubin hoping that his father would appear for his eyes,â€ she said. Moubin had never met his father.
Now Amin was one of 15 detainees whoâ€™d be released as part of a reconciliation program that the U.S. militaryâ€™s 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment put together in hopes of easing tensions in this divided neighborhood. But the release showed how far reconciliation has to go.
More than 25,000 Iraqis are now in U.S. detention facilities. The Jihad reconciliation committee of Sunni and Shiite Muslims had requested that 562 men be released. Last month, 48 people were released, but 40 more were detained.
Most of those held are never charged with crimes. Sometimes Iraqis are detained because of a tip from a neighbor or because a few cables and cleaning agents are mistaken for bomb-making material.
Nasser said that there was no evidence linking her husband to Shiite Muslim militias. â€œThey destroyed the house with us in it,â€ she said of the U.S. soldiers. â€œThe reason? Because he has a revolver, a revolver that he puts under his pillow to defend me and my daughter.â€
A member of the reconciliation committee, eavesdropping interrupted her.
â€œTalk about reconciliation,â€ he instructed.
â€œReconciliation? Which reconciliation? What did we understand from the reconciliation?â€ Nasser asked. â€œItâ€™s been one year and three months and he did nothing.â€
Nasser counts Aminâ€™s detention in more than just time – one year, three months and four days. She also counts it in the days sheâ€™s had to be a single mother to her daughter, Banin, now 3. She counts it in the joy she couldnâ€™t share with her husband when their son was born. He wasnâ€™t there as security in Jihad deteriorated and Sunnis and Shiites separated into their own enclaves. When a tenuous stability returned, she couldnâ€™t celebrate with her husband.
â€œHe never prayed in a Husseiniyah,â€ she said, referring to Shiite places of worship, â€œor in a mosque, and he doesnâ€™t get involved in anyoneâ€™s business.â€ The tears began to flow. The Americans divided Iraqis, she said, by accusing all Sunnis of being insurgents and all Shiites of being aligned with militias. â€œI swear to God I didnâ€™t recognize people as Sunni or Shiite until after the collapse,â€ she said, referring to the fall of Saddam Husseinâ€™s regime.
â€œOur lives are full of injustice. …God willing all the detainees will be released,â€ she said. â€œWe tasted bitterness, no salaries – we have nothing. We suffered so much.â€
As his wife wept outside, Amin was inside, preparing to be released. U.S. soldiers cut the plastic cuffs from his wrists. He and the other detainees were asked to sign a â€œreconciliation oath.â€ Behind each detainee sat a relative or friend whoâ€™d promised that heâ€™d honor the oath. Aminâ€™s brother put his hand on Aminâ€™s right shoulder and Amin recited the oath.
â€œI, Mohammed Amin, acknowledge the recent signing of the reconciliation agreement, have ushered in an era of peace and partnership between Shiite, Sunni, Kurdish, Christian, Jaysh al Mahdi (the Mahdi Army of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr), Iraqi security forces and American forces,â€ he said. â€œBased on a review of my arrest record, Iraqi government and coalition force leaders have agreed that my immediate release would be beneficial to the reconciliation process. I pledge not to commit any violation of the reconciliation agreementâ€™s 12 points, violate Iraqi law or attack coalition forces.â€
Amin said heâ€™d never been a threat to security. He thought about his children waiting for him outside.
â€œIt was a lot of suffering and I lived with very little hope,â€ he said. â€œI always hoped to hug my son and daughter and to raise them with the right principles. …I depended on God to get through and now I forget it. Itâ€™s only a page in my past.â€
He went to collect his personal items from a U.S. soldier, but before he could shake hands with the soldier, Nasser pulled him away.