Archive

ShareThis Page
Iraqi family, torn apart for opposing Saddam, reunites in Pittsburgh | TribLIVE.com
Allegheny

Iraqi family, torn apart for opposing Saddam, reunites in Pittsburgh

PTRIRAQIREUNION8112414
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
Abdullah Alkhuzai (far left), 43, of Braddock embraces his father, Khamees, in the baggage claim area of Pittsburgh International Airport in Moon as they see each other for the first time since 1991 on Sunday, November 23, 2014. Alkhuzai's mother, Hayat, cries as she hugs her other son, Salah, 36, of Dormont. Khamees and Hayat endured two days of air travel from their homeland of Iraq.
PTRIRAQIREUNION1112414
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
Abdullah Alkhuzai, 43, looks through family photos in his living room in Braddock on Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014. Alkhuzai was captured by dictator Saddam Hussein's top regime officials during an uprising in Nasiriya in March 1991, the last time he saw his parents. Starved and tortured with electricity at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison, Alkhuzai fled on foot to Saudi Arabia where he stayed in a refugee camp for three years. Twenty-three years later, he welcomed his ailing parents to Pittsburgh on Sunday.
PTRIRAQIREUNION2112414
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
Abdullah Alkhuzai, 43, holds up a picture of his late brother, Falah Alkhuzai, 25, as he flips through family photos in his living room in Braddock on Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014. The two-star general died commanding 5,000 soldiers on the front lines in Tikrit in combat with what the world now knows as the Islamic State. Since Falah’s death, the health of the brothers' parents has deteriorated. Otherwise treatable conditions such as diabetes worsened with the stress, and Iraqi doctors lacked the medical supplies to help.
PTRIRAQIREUNION4112414
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
Abdullah Alkhuzai, 43, confers with his wife, Christine, as he talks on the phone with his parents in Iraq from his Braddock living room on Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014. The couple petitioned U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle’s office to help secure visas for Alkhuzai's parents to come to America for medical care and to live in Braddock with them. The family has talked to a small team of Pittsburgh doctors who plan to treat Alkhuzai's father's gangrenous wounds.
PTRIRAQIREUNION5112414
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
Salah Alkhuzia, 36, of Dormont takes an oath to become an American citizen during a naturalization ceremony in U.S. District Court, Downtown, on Friday, Nov. 21, 2014. “It is a huge and happy thing,' he said.
PTRIRAQIREUNION3112414
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
Abdullah Alkhuzai, 43, pours water for hot chocolate in his living room in Braddock on Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014. Alkhuzai is the second of 14 children born into a Shiite Muslim farming family in the oil- and date-rich desert of Nasiriya in southeastern Iraq. He lost three brothers in the ongoing conflict in the region. Alkhuzai, who hasn't seen his parents since 1991 when he fled the region after being starved and tortured for his opposition of Saddam Hussein's regime, brought his parents to Pittsburgh so they could receive health care treatment not available in their home country.
PTRIRAQIREUNION7112414
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
Abdullah Alkhuzai (right), 43, of Braddock takes a photo of his granddaughter, Amina Gruszewski, 1, of Rankin, on the lap of his brother, Salah Alkhuzai, 36, of Dormont after Salah's naturalization ceremony in downtown Pittsburgh on Friday, Nov. 21, 2014. Growing up in a family of 14 siiblings, the pair say they adore children. “My parents, they are caught between two families. One in Pittsburgh, one in Iraq,” Salah said.
PTRIRAQIREUNION6112414
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
Abdullah Alkhuzai (left), 43, of Braddock takes a photo of his granddaughter, Amina Gruszewski, 1, of Rankin, on the lap of his brother, Salah Alkhuzai, 36, of Dormont after Salah's naturalization ceremony in downtown Pittsburgh on Friday, Nov. 21, 2014. The pair lost their brother, Falah Alkhuzai, who died as a two-star general in the Iraqi army while in combat with what the world now knows as the Islamic State. 'We wanted him to stay in Iraq for our parents, but losing him — I will feel that pain forever.” Falah is the third brother the men have lost in the ongoing conflict plaguing their home country.
PTRIRAQIREUNION10112414
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
Beth Tull (far left), 49, of Sharpsburg waits for her brother-in-law, Abdullah Alkhuzai, 43, as he leads his mother, Hayat, to his house in Braddock on Sunday, November 23, 2014. Alkhuzai's parents landed hours prior after a days long trip from their homeland of Iraq. After the death of Alkhuzai's brother, who took care of his parents, the family decided to try to move the parents to the United States so they could receive medical care that was unavailable to them in Iraq.
PTRIRAQIREUNION11112414
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
Abdullah Alkhuzai (far left), 43, points to a container of his father's insulin pens as he discusses his father's treatment for diabetes with his brother, Salah; their father, Khamees; and Alkhuzai's wife, Christine, 46, on Sunday, November 23, 2014. Khamees came from Iraq to receive medical care for his diabetes, which is developing gangrenous wounds on his feet.
PTRIRAQIREUNION13112414
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
Hours after landing in the United States from their homeland of Iraq, Khamees (center) and Hayat (right) Alkhuzai clap along to a song in Arabic with their granddaughter, Amina Gruszewski, 1, after meeting her for the first time in their son's house in Braddock on Sunday, November 23, 2014. Their son, Abdullah Alkhuzai, 43, explained seeing his parents for the first time after 23 years as an incredibly happy moment that words could not describe.
PTRIRAQIREUNION12112414
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
Khamees Alkhuzai reaches for his grandson, Stephen Gruszewski, 7, as they meet for the first time in the house they will now share in Braddock on Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014. At right, Khamees' son, Salah, catches up with his mother Hayat, whom he has not seen since 2010.
PTRIRAQIREUNION9112414
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
Abdullah Alkhuzai (right), 43, of Braddock embraces his mother, Hayat, as they pull out of the parking garage at the Pittsburgh International Airport in Moon on Sunday, November 23, 2014. Abdullah had not seen his parents since 1991, when he was imprisoned for dissent against dictator Saddam Hussein's regime. Hayat and her husband had just landed after two days of air travel from their homeland of Iraq.

The first tears fell as the elevator opened.

Twenty-three years after fleeing Iraq at the close of the Persian Gulf War, Abdullah “Abe” Alkhuzai welcomed his ailing parents from their homeland to Pittsburgh on Sunday.

“My sons, my sons,” cried his mother, bouquets and balloons forgotten. Abe and his younger brother, Salah, flung themselves at Khamees and Hayat Alkhuzai at the arrivals gate at Pittsburgh International Airport.

“Alhamdulillah, alhamdulillah,” they all said. “Praise be to God.”

The reunion is a sweet turn in the saga of a family torn apart during decades of dictatorship and war.

Alkhuzai, 43, a craftsman from Braddock, is the second of 14 children born into a close-knit family in the oil- and date-rich desert of Nasiriya in southeastern Iraq.

He said his Shiite Muslim family long opposed the regime of dictator Saddam Hussein, a Sunni. They knew that opposition could have deadly consequences.

“Don’t think. Don’t paint. Don’t create. Don’t ask questions. Why you do this? What leads you to do this?” Abe said from his plush, crimson living room. “I grew up. I knew I had to fight that, to fight what was wrong.”

Alkhuzai sued Saddam and his henchmen before the dictator’s capture in 2003. A federal court judge in Pittsburgh awarded Alkhuzai an unprecedented $88 million judgment, although no one ever paid.

The judgment was the long-awaited result of a violent uprising in Nasiriya in March 1991 — the last time Abe saw his parents — when top regime officials captured him during a patrol.

Starved and tortured with electricity, he was kept for 30 days in the infamous Abu Ghraib and Al Harthia prisons in a series of windowless stone rooms with hundreds of other inmates. Captors there denied their victims food, facilities and room to sit. Many men collapsed from the heat and died, he said. Some were crushed under steamrollers. One was set into concrete that hardened from his knees down. Another man — boiled alive by Saddam officials — died in Abe’s arms.

At his release, he fled on foot to Saudi Arabia where he stayed in the Rafha refugee camp for three years. In 1994, he took his first steps on American soil.

“He should have died so many times. But God kept saving him,” said his wife, Christine, 46, whom he met a few years after moving to Western Pennsylvania.

Abe considers himself lucky. Three of his brothers died in related conflicts.

The family identified the bullet-riddled body of his brother Jaffar, 18, in 1995 from a tattoo their grandmother had etched on the boy’s arm 10 years prior. Infallible identification, she told them.

“I was asking her, ‘Why you do that?’ I was little,” Abe said, thumbing the outer plane of his left bicep where she long ago penned his nickname, Abood, in Arabic. “She said, ‘Honey, you don’t know. … This country, a lot of people, they die. … This is how we will identify you — with your tattoo.’ ”

A second brother, Sabah, 22, stepped outside for a cigarette in 2007 at the Nasiriya hospital where he worked. A roadside bomb propelled shrapnel into his lung. Friends told Abe that he died slowly.

The Alkhuzais lost another child in June.

Coats pile up in the Braddock entryway where Christine points to a small glass memorial for Falah Alkhuzai, 25, posing in Army green. The two-star general died while commanding 5,000 soldiers on the front lines in Tikrit in combat with what the world now knows as the Islamic State.

“I didn’t think of him like a brother, but more like a son,” said Salah, who immigrated to the United States eight years ago. “I helped send him to the military. We wanted him to stay in Iraq for our parents, but losing him — I will feel that pain forever.”

Salah, 36, of Dormont became an American citizen Friday in a ceremony Downtown.

“My parents, they are caught between two families — one in Pittsburgh, one in Iraq,” he said. “It is a hard thing to come; it is a hard thing to go.”

Since Falah’s death, his parents’ health has deteriorated. Otherwise treatable conditions such as diabetes worsened with stress, and Iraqi doctors lacked medical supplies to help.

U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle’s office confirmed the family talked with a small team of Pittsburgh doctors who plan to treat Khamees’ dangerously swollen and gangrenous feet.

Doyle, D-Forest Hills, in August urged the Citizenship and Immigration Services to expedite visa applications for Khamees and Hayat. The agency approved both last week.

“I can’t put my happiness in words,” Khamees said in Arabic, embracing long-talked-about grandchildren and friends.

“My heart has always been in two places,” Abe said. “Today, we are whole.”

Megan Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5815 or mharris@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.