On November 13, 2006, a 24-year-old Iraqi student was shot in the head by United States soldiers in Baghdad. The shooting left multiple bullet fragments, which are bringing on epileptic seizures more than 10 years after the incident.
The woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, is just one among many Iraqi civilians who continue to face the repercussions of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
This is her story as told to Al Jazeera’s Osama bin Javaid.
“It all happened in a flash. I heard the explosion, saw blood in my eyes and then passed out.
“It was around 7:30am on November 13, 2006.
“We were driving to university in Baghdad. I remember it clearly as I was in my final year at the college of arts. I was with two other friends in the car. The driver was one friend’s father. It was a terrible time to be in Baghdad as there were attacks and explosions almost every day.
“Our families felt safer when we travelled in one car. We were driving on Qanbar Ali road when we saw two US vehicles on either side of the road. We slowed down as usual, but the elderly driver probably did not hear the instructions to stop. As he drove on, the US soldiers opened fire. I was sitting in the backseat, behind the driver and the bullet meant for him missed him, grazed my head, swerved and exploded. I fainted.
“Later, my friend told me there was blood everywhere in the car and that her face was covered with my blood and some bullet fragments.
“They could not stop the bleeding so my friend’s father took me to Al Kindi hospital. They turned us away because of my head injury. By the time I regained consciousness, I was on the way to the neurological hospital in an ambulance. I started throwing up blood. That was when they called my family. It was not just me, my friends also had bullet fragments in their faces, shoulders and arms. The doctors thought I had a bullet in my head but when they cleaned me up a little, they discovered it was multiple fragments in my head and upper body.
“I think my family lost hope at that point.
“They were all crying and praying at the same time. I remember, it was so cold. I was shivering from weakness and the loss of blood, but there were no blankets at the hospital. I only got one when my mother fetched one from our house.
“Then suddenly, US soldiers came to my room. They assessed my condition and said they wanted to take me to the special US hospital in Baghdad. My father refused to let me go alone, into the care of the same people who shot me. They allowed my father to accompany me and kept talking to me so that I remained awake and would not slip into a coma. It was late afternoon when we arrived at the Ibn Sina hospital [then a US military combat hospital], but they decided to move me because of the state I was in.
“It was night by the time they put my stretcher in a helicopter to the al-Balad hospital [at the US military base in Salahaldin province near Tikrit, Saddam’s birth place], which had specialist care for wounds like mine. My father was with me.
“At al-Balad, the doctors gave me twelve injections over 48 hours. I was also given red coloured pills for the pain. No one told us why I was given those injections. I discovered much later that they were for the poison in the bullet.
“When the US soldiers took us, my family was happy thinking they would take care of me. But that relief was short-lived. After a couple of days, they sent us back to Ibn Sina and when we got there we were redirected to the Medical City Hospital. It was another day of carnage in Baghdad and when we reached Medical City, there were dead bodies and wounded people everywhere.
“My father decided it would be best to go home.
“For days, I could not sleep. My brother found a friend who was a doctor, and he told us there were many fragments in my head which had not been removed. The fibrosis was getting bad and he said we should have had immediate surgery. My family took me to Sheikh Zayed hospital where they removed some fragments. After a few days, I had severe pain in my stomach and my shoulder. That was when the doctor discovered there were more fragments in my body. I underwent another surgery to get those removed. Other metal bits were lodged too deep and they did not remove them because the surgery was risky.
“I remember being dizzy all the time.
“I could not even walk on my own and the dizziness lasted for four months.
“Life moved on. I went back to university and finished my degree the following year despite the bombings and killings in Baghdad. I started working and found the love of my life. Now I have two beautiful healthy children.
“I thought my ‘shot by US soldiers past’ was behind me. But life throws you curveballs. And since last year, I have been the cause of fear and concern for my beloved family.
“It has been 15 years since the incident, but the bullet fragments in my brain are still pressing on my nerves and since last year, I have epilepsy.
“I would like you to imagine how scary it was for my little children when their mother fell flat to the floor for the first time, shaking violently, strange sounds coming from her throat and foaming at the mouth.
“I have had multiple assessments in Iraq, Turkey and Germany. And it comes down to having more brain surgery. But we do not have the money to get this precision surgery done in Iraq.
“For the world, I am another statistic, a number among the millions wounded in Iraq. We Iraqis continue to face the repercussions of a war that we did not want. What is my fault? My family’s fault? And now, my husband and children’s fault?
“They crushed me and my dreams. I still persevered, I still pulled myself up.
“Now their actions are haunting me again, I do not know if I have the energy to do it once again.
“I did not want to share my story because I have no hope that the people who fired those shots will ever face justice. Or that anyone will help me.”