Unseen Iraq

A Joyful Welcome Home for Detainees

Iraqi detainees are released in Baghdad after they were transported, hands tied, from the U.S. detention facility Camp Bucca, in southern Iraq.
By Andrea Bruce
Washington Post Staff Photographer
Monday, October 6, 2008

Flipping back a canvas tarp, 12 men squint at the dusty sun and jump, one by one, off the bed of a U.S. military transport truck, dropping to their knees in prayer. They are free.

Before their arrival at the Iraqi police headquarters in Baghdad, they were transported, hands tied, from the U.S. detention facility Camp Bucca, in southern Iraq -- a full day's drive from here. Their ironed pants and stiff new shoes were donated for their homecoming, replacing the orange jumpsuits from Bucca.

Slowly, they pull each other up, their tears falling, uncontrollable after years of waiting.

And then they are forced to wait a little more. Temporarily in Iraqi police custody, the men wade through an hour of bureaucracy while their families mill about just outside the compound. For security reasons, they are then transported in Iraqi police vehicles to another neighborhood.

The trip becomes a parade. Horns blare. Kids cheer. Women pelt the police pickups with hard candy. The detainees stand and wave in the truck beds, crying as they pass old men drinking tea and selling vegetables on the streets. One family follows behind in a rusted car, yelling, driving haphazardly, eyes on their loved ones and barely on the road.

Haqi Ismaeel Awad was detained more than two years ago because, he says, the U.S. military suspected his brother of participating in the insurgency. Now he has been cleared of involvement.

Awad, eyes closed, faces into the wind, feeling its force on his face as the smells and sounds of Baghdad become a reality.

When the truck pulls into a neighborhood park, Awad's parents run alongside it with their arms open. The truck's rear gate is not opened fast enough. The men jump over it and down to the road, into the embraces of mothers, wives, brothers and fathers.

Weeping, Awad's wife grabs him, holding his face in her hands, kissing one cheek, then the other.

"You look old," she says, but she smiles.

He scans the crowd past her.

Their two children are waiting for them at home, she tells him, bringing his eyes down to hers. It is still too dangerous for them to be out on the streets.

Washington Post photographer Andrea Bruce is documenting the lives of people in Iraq in a feature, Unseen Iraq, appearing regularly in the World pages. For a photo gallery and previous columns, visit http://blog.washpost.com/unseen-iraq.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company