My name is Awras Haddad. I am Iraqi, and I am an immigrant several times over. I was born in Hungary, schooled in Libya, and educated at a university in Iraq. I prepared to be a dentist in Iraq and the US. I finally settled in Texas. The immigrant I want tell about, though, is one who never got to America, my mother, Amal.

She, too, was many times an immigrant. She and my father, Athir, were communists as young people and so not welcome in Saddam’s Iraq. They left Iraq in their twenties to do their masters degrees in the UK. Then they went to Budapest to do their PhD’s. I was born there. When I was five they moved to Tripoli in Libya to work at a university. We lived in Libya from when I was five until I was nineteen. By then, 2001, my mother was ready to go home, and we returned to Iraq.

My mother was a strong person but very sweet. She was a liberal who adopted western dress: no scarf, short skirts, pants. She and my father refused to join Saddam’s Ba’ath party, and so they were unable to find jobs in public universities. They eventually found work at a private university.

My mother wanted to be part of building a good Iraq. She was hopeful about that when Saddam fell in 2003. She worked with a lot of NGOs. One of them was supported by the US government. She was an activist for women’s rights. She worked on the constitution’s women’s rights provisions. She was one of ten or so women invited to visit George W. Bush at the White House. My family still has that picture. She was an occasional commentator on Al Jazeera, one of a very few women at that time. She spoke out as a human and did what she thought was right regardless of politics. For example, she spoke out against the public mistreatment of corpses of four American military contractors that Iraq insurgents ambushed and killed in Fallujah.

For her efforts she was viewed as a threat and assassinated. It happened while she was being driven to work. She had a bodyguard with her, but he was her yard man. She wanted to help him. He was very sweet and short, not built to be a bodyguard, but she didn’t believe people would threaten her because she was doing good for Iraq. She was wrong.

That day she was giving her secretary a ride to work because she Iived a long way from the office. Two cars stopped the four of them en route. They first shot the driver so it was not possible to flee. Then they killed the others in the car. Bystanders did not try to help because they were afraid they, too, would be shot if they tried.

An hour or two later an ambulance came and took the victims to the hospital. My father and sister were the first to know. He was at work. She was in school. I was in dental school and doing my first surgery. I was happy, looking forward to telling my mother about it when I went home. My sister had to go to the hospital and confirm mother’s death. I couldn’t face that.

We really don’t know why my mother was killed or who did it. My dad started an investigation, but he received a phone call threatening him and his daughters with the same fate if he did so. He closed the investigation. In the end it really doesn’t matter who did it and why. I believe she was killed because she spoke her mind. It must have threatened some people.

I admired my mother. She is the reason I came to the US. I had an uncle in the UK, but my mother encouraged me to come to the US. She visited the US multiple times and felt that there are no limits here. So that was my ambition. I got a visa through a program for people who were affiliated with U.S. NGOs. My husband and I completed dental school in San Francisco and established our practices in Texas.

I’m very proud of my mother. She was very sweet and at the same time very strong. She loved living, and she loved people. Every weekend we had people in our home. Even now when I put something on Facebook about her, I cannot believe the number of people who comment. They still know her name twenty years after her death.

In 2019 I visited my mother’s grave in Iraq. She is buried next to her mother in a conservative Shia City. I believe that’s where she wanted to be. I took my kids, twin boys, with me. They cried even though they never met her.

I went there as an American. I am now a citizen. In America everything is organized, very convenient. I know what to expect. Not like Iraq now where the streets are bad, many people are poor, and corruption is worse—open and direct. My boys found Iraq to be dirty and smelly, not what they were used to. One of them asked me how I could have lived in such a place. I took the opportunity to tell him that you can live in any environment. It’s not where you live. It’s who you are. Wherever you live you have to work hard and smart. Judge people based on how they treat you and how they think. When people misjudge you, try to educate them. I think this is my mom living in me and passing that on to my kids. Like her, I’m outspoken, but I’m diplomatic. I know when to talk and when not to.

My mother did not live to see me as a successful professional woman. She would be disappointed that I had to leave Iraq to achieve that. It was bad that she died early but good because she didn’t see how Iraq collapsed. She did not have to see that her hope for Iraq turned out to be a fantasy.

Awras H. Frisco, TX