Iraq: Fiancé returns after 22 years
Ashwaq waited for over two decades for the man she loved to come home from Iran, where he was being held as a prisoner of war. During all that time, they were only able to keep in touch by writing Red Cross messages delivered by the ICRC. Excerpt from a report by Agence France Presse (21 September 2003).
For more than 20 years, Ashwaq refused all offers of marriage from the young men of her Baghdad neighbourhood, al Karrada. She insisted that she already had a fiancé, even though he had gone missing at the beginning of the 1980-1988 war between Iran and Iraq.
" I got engaged in 1979, when I was 17, to the man of my dreams. It wasn't easy to keep hope alive for all those years, but I never fell in love with anyone else. I had already found my soul mate, " explained Ashwaq, beaming, as she sat in her family's living room.
The patience of this Sunni woman, who is now 41, was rewarded on 16 March, four days before the start of the recent war in Iraq, when an unrecognizable Sabah rang her doorbell.
" At first, I didn't know who he was, and I think it was the same for him. He was a changed man. But I quickly realized that his spirit was intact, " she said.
An ex-prisoner had seen him...
From 1981, when he was captured in battle, until his return home this year, Sabah, an Iraqi army officer, had been locked away in an Iranian prison. At first, he was listed as missing, and for two whole years his family and fiancé had no news of him. But in 1983, a former detainee came to tell them that he had seen Sabah in prison.
Later on, with the ICRC's help, they received some letters and two recorded messages from him. " Sometimes we had no news of him for months on end, and I didn't even know where to write him, " said Ashwaq.
Then, in the 1990s, several former prisoners brought more news of Sabah, who was finally released last March, just before the war broke out.
" After all those years in prison, he never complains – not even about the water shortages or the electricity cuts. He's a very good man. He thanks God for having spared his life and now wants to spend time with his friends and rediscover his country, " said his fiancé.
No house, no job, no money
At the age of 45, with no house, no job and no money, Sabah is forced to live with his parents.
" My mother says that I shouldn't marry a poor man. But I love Sabah, even though he's penniless and has been away for so long, " said Ashwaq, proudly showing off her engagement ring, which was purchased for a dollar at a street-side stall but is worth the world to her.
The couple are bitter because Sabah did not receive a house and a car when he returned home, as other prisoners of war did when Saddam Hussein was president.
" We have nothing, we are still poor, " they said.
Sabah, who read and studied in prison, wants to go to Iraqi Kurdistan, in the north of the country, to obtain a university degree. Ashwaq wants to go with him.
" He knew I was waiting for him. Our love is stronger than ever and we want to get married, " said Ashwaq, explaining that they currently live as an engaged couple, which means that they only see each other a few times a week at her parents'house.
Once they wed, they hope that God will see fit to give them children, in spite of their age. " Inch'Allah, " says Ashwaq, smiling.
Copyright Agence France Presse