Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef interviewed

Saadi YoussefFrom London weekly Socialist Worker:

Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef on ‘bullet censorship’

Acclaimed Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef spoke to Jonathan Maunder about his life and work, and about the current state of politics and poetry in the Middle East

Saadi Youssef is one of Iraq’s best known poets.

His work is renowned throughout the Middle East and beyond.

He has translated numerous writers into Arabic, including George Orwell, Federico Garcia Lorca and Walt Whitman [see also here].

Saadi fled Iraq in 1979 after Saddam Hussein tightened his hold on power. He now lives just outside London.

With the recent Israeli onslaught on Lebanon in mind, I asked Saadi about the time he spent living in Beirut during Israel’s 1982 invasion of the country.

British soldiers don’t want to go to Iraq: here.

1 thought on “Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef interviewed

  1. Brit private: ‘I can’t go to Iraq. I can’t kill those children’
    Posted by: “bigraccoon” redwoodsaurus
    Date: Fri Aug 25, 2006 3:19 pm (PDT)

    ‘I can’t go to Iraq. I can’t kill
    those children’ – Suicide
    soldier’s dying words to his

    By Cahal Milmo
    25 August 2006

    While his peers from St Augustine’s Catholic school were this
    month contemplating university careers or first jobs, Jason
    Chelsea was preoccupied with a different future: his first tour
    of duty in Iraq.

    The 19-year-old infantryman, from Wigan, Greater
    Manchester, was tormented by concern about what awaited
    him when the King’s Lancaster Regiment reached Iraq,
    where 115 British soldiers have been killed since 2003.

    He had even told his parents that he had been warned by
    his commanders that he could be ordered to fire on child
    suicide bombers.

    It was a fear that he never confronted. Within 48 hours of
    confessing his concerns to his family, Pte Chelsea was dead
    after taking an overdose of painkillers and slashing his

    On his death bed, he told his mother, Kerry: “I can’t go out
    there and shoot at young children. I just can’t go to Iraq. I
    don’t care what side they are on. I can’t do it.”

    Today, mourners including comrades from his unit will attend
    Pte Chelsea’s funeral, wearing the colours of his two
    favourite football teams, Chelsea and Wigan. The Ministry of
    Defence (MoD) is to begin an investigation into his death,
    including allegations that the teenager was bullied. In a
    suicide note, the young soldier had said that he was “just a

    His parents said yesterday that their son’s ordeal had
    convinced them of the need for an urgent review of the
    pre-deployment training given to British soldiers bound for

    Tony Chelsea, 58, a factory production supervisor, said: “My
    son was made very, very lonely by what was happening to
    him. He was very sad inside and he bottled up what was
    causing it. It was only after the overdose that he told us
    about his fears over what might happen in Iraq.”

    “In training, they were made to wrestle with dummies. Jason
    said they were also told they might have to fight kids and
    that they might have to shoot them because they were
    carrying suicide bombs. He said the policy [where there was
    a suspected suicide bomber] was to shoot first and ask
    questions later.”

    His mother added: “Jason said that during the training for
    Iraq he had been told that children as young as two carry
    bombs and the time may come when he would have to shoot
    one to save himself and his friends. I think they need to
    think again about the training they give to young soldiers
    before Iraq.”

    It is understood guidelines on training for British troops
    heading for Iraq offer no warning on child suicide bombers.
    But defence sources confirmed that the details of the advice
    given to soldiers are decided by each regiment. There have
    been no known cases of suicide attacks in Iraq committed by
    young children.

    The death of Pte Chelsea, who had served in Germany and
    Cyprus, will renew concern about the psychological pressures
    aced by British troops as they deal with deployment to Iraq.
    Four days before the infantryman attempted to take his life,
    the MoD released figures showing that 1,541 soldiers who
    served in Iraq are suffering from psychiatric illness. Last year,
    727 cases were recorded, amounting to nearly 10 per cent of
    the British deployment. Special units have now been set up
    in the country to help soldiers deal with combat stress. While
    services were also available in Britain to Pte Chelsea to
    discuss his concerns within the Army, it seems he felt unable
    to disclose them.

    He had joined the Army at 16 after a visit to his school,
    St Augustine’s, telling his family the Army was to be his life.
    He was at home on leave when his fears came to a head this

    After watching a football match on the night of 10 August, he
    calmly wrote the suicide note, telling his father it was a letter
    to a relative, took 60 painkillers then slashed his wrists. As
    he lay bleeding, the soldier dialed 999, telling the operator:
    “I have done something stupid.”

    In normal circumstances, Pte Chelsea, who suffered from
    dyslexia, may have recovered from his injuries. But when
    doctors began tests to assess the damage caused to his
    liver by the drugs, it was found that the organ had been
    irreparably damaged by alcohol. His family were told his liver
    was similar to that of someone who had been an alcoholic for
    20 years and he would not survive a transplant. He died on
    14 August at St James’s Hospital in Leeds after his family
    gave consent for his other organs to be used for transplants.

    His father said he believed the reasons behind his son’s
    drinking had provoked a previous suicide attempt in 2004,
    when he cut his wrists in his barracks. After this incident,
    Pte Chelsea was treated by an Army psychiatrist which the
    family said had restored his confidence.

    Mr Chelsea said: “My son started drinking 18 months ago. He
    destroyed his liver in less than a year and a half. I believe
    that is because he was being bullied again. He did not want
    to make anything of it. He was in the Army, he knew he had
    to be tough. But it only takes a few words. He said he would
    hear comments aimed at him because of his dyslexia. He was
    told he would get his colleagues killed because he was

    “I support the British Army and what it does. But I would like
    to stand before my son’s unit with a picture of him in uniform
    and ask those who made these comments to him time after
    time to think about the effect they had.”

    The young soldier’s despair was displayed in the note he
    wrote to his parents before his overdose. He said: “Really
    sorry, mum and dad. I’m just no good for you. I have got to
    finish it. I am just a waste.”

    The MoD said it was “greatly saddened” by the death but the
    details of his treatment remained the subject of an inquiry. A
    spokesman said: “We send our heartfelt sympathies to the
    family of Pte Chelsea. It is our intention to convene a board
    of inquiry which will examine the circumstances around his

    Five other suicides since Iraq invasion

    * JULY 2004

    Pte Gary Boswell, 20, of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, hanged
    himself near his home in Milford Haven. He was on leave from

    * 31 OCTOBER 2004

    Staff Sgt Denise Rose, 34, who served in the Special
    Investigation Branch of the Royal Military Police, was found
    dead from a gunshot wound at a British Army base in Basra

    * 26 DECEMBER 2004

    Sgt Paul Connolly, 33, of the 21st Engineer Regiment of the
    Royal Engineers was found dead from a gunshot wound at
    Shaibah Logistic Base, south-west of Basra

    * 15 OCTOBER 2005

    Capt Ken Masters, 40, of the Special Investigation Branch of
    the Royal Military Police, hanged himself in his office in Basra,
    just five days before the end of a tour

    * 22 MARCH 2006

    Cpl Mark Cridge, 25, of 7 Signal Regiment, shot himself at
    Camp Bastion in the Helmand province of Afghanistan


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