Conflicts & War

From student to prisoner of war, the story of an Iranian veteran

By Marina Villen

Tehran, Oct 5 (efe-epa).- Four decades after the start of the Iran-Iraq war, Abdulhamid Shamsolahi, who exchanged books for weapons and was a prisoner of war for almost nine years, has the same spirit of resistance.

Shamsolahi does not regret being a soldier, saying he had to do it.

Before taking up arms he was a literature student in France, where he lived for more than two years before returning to his country to help stop the Iraqi invasion.

“The war itself is not good, but if the enemy attacks you, you must prepare to defend your country,” he says in an interview with Efe.

Shamsolahi was captured during Iran’s large-scale counter-offensive Operation Ramadan, launched near the Iraqi city of Basra in 1982.

Shamsolahi’s unit consisted of 15 soldiers, four of whom were captured and the rest were executed.

“The Iraqis executed many soldiers in eastern Basra. It was a terrible attack,” he adds.

“They tied our hands and started shooting at us, but suddenly the Iraqi commander said ‘don’t do that, we need prisoners because the Iranian side has many and we must keep them (alive) to exchange them in the future.”

From there he was transferred to Mosul in northern Iraq, where he spent a long time in captivity and put his language skills into action.

“I was teaching English, French and Arabic to my fellow prisoners and I was a translator for the United Nations and the Red Cross,” he details in a tent set up near the Islamic Revolution and Holy Defense Museum in Tehran.

The role of teacher and translator was not welcomed by Iraqi forces, who did not want the Red Cross to know the reality of prisoners of war, according to Shamsolahi.

“Sometimes we faced torture. I was in isolation for three weeks and it was very dark… they didn’t want me to translate,” he continues.

Shamsolahi was released after the end of the war in August 1988, when Iran accepted a United Nations-mediated ceasefire without a clear winner and with between 500,000 and one million dead.

Although it was the regime of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein that started the conflict and used chemical weapons during the war, most foreign powers supported Baghdad.

“Iraq was backed by many countries, which equipped the Iraqis with advanced weapons but Iran was alone. No country defended us or supplied us with weapons because we were under sanctions,” denounces Shamsolahi.

A year earlier in February 1979, the Islamic Revolution had triumphed in Iran and Washington severed relations and imposed a series of sanctions after an assault on the US embassy in Tehran when diplomats were taken hostage.

Four decades later, Iran and the US remain without diplomatic ties and tensions are growing between both sides after Washington reimposed harsh sanctions on Tehran.

The US has continued to have close diplomatic ties with Iraq.

Iran has a great political, economic and military influence on its neighbor Iraq and tries to maintain a difficult balance between Tehran and Washington.

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