Abdul Sahib Ridha, 37, Maithem Slaiyill, 35, and Nabeal Sabah, 41 at the Ministry of Defence. They are members of Voice of Righteousness, a disable veterans group. Picture: Ella Pellegrini
Abdul Sahib Ridha, 37, Maithem Slaiyill, 35, and Nabeal Sabah, 41 at the Ministry of Defence. They are members of Voice of Righteousness, a disable veterans group. Picture: Ella Pellegrini

Forgotten heroes who fought Islamic State

They are the first line of defence against Islamic State and al-Qaeda, and they have given their legs, eyes and almost their lives to the war on terror.

But the injured Iraqi veterans of the terror wars say they have been neglected by their own government, and are fighting a new battle - for compensation and respect.

They have formed Iraq's first advocacy and support organisation for disabled military veterans, called Sawt al-Haqq - the Voice of Righteousness - and are visiting injured veterans, and providing companionship and advice on seeking compensation.

Nabeal Sabah was part of a group conducting a raid against al-Qaeda, the terror group which spawned the breakaway Islamic State when an improved explosive device detonated alongside his armoured vehicle.

The Special Forces soldier lost both legs and his left eye in the attack on January 17, 2008, and his life was destroyed. He never married, and is still renting a house at the age of 41, an unusual and undesirable situation for Iraqis.

"Injured people live in a shell, but still they need to go outside,'' he told News Corp.

"Because part of my body has gone does not mean my life has gone.''

He said the government tried to pension him off, but he resisted due to the low rate of the pension, and was now transferred to a hospital division for inactive soldiers who could no longer fight.

Abdul Sahib Ridha, 37, Maithem Slaiyill, 35, and Nabeal Sabah, 41 at the Ministry of Defence. They are members of Voice of Righteousness, a disabled veterans group. Picture: Ella Pellegrini
Abdul Sahib Ridha, 37, Maithem Slaiyill, 35, and Nabeal Sabah, 41 at the Ministry of Defence. They are members of Voice of Righteousness, a disabled veterans group. Picture: Ella Pellegrini

However, he said he and others were not adequately compensated for their injuries, lost months of pay, and the rights enshrined in the constitution for injured veterans were not being applied.

While those injured fighting ISIS were entitled to a small compensation of $2500, even that amount was not available to those injured prior to 2014.

"The other major problem for us is discrimination. There is ISIS but before ISIS there was al-Qaeda and ISIS came from al-Qaeda,'' he said.

Maithem Slaiyill, now 35, was fighting on the front line against Islamic State with the Iraqi army' first division in May 2015 when his rapid intrusion force was hit by an improvised explosive device.

"A suicide guy came with a car bomb. People got killed and injured,'' he said.

He lost his left eye.

He's now based in an active army unit but will shortly be transferred to the hospitals list.

"I have a wife and five children. Some of the children came after the injury,'' he said.

"But after the injury I couldn't be a fighter anymore.

The men all risked their lives to save others. Picture: Ella Pellegrini
The men all risked their lives to save others. Picture: Ella Pellegrini

"Eight months ago I applied to the health and hospital centre.''

The move will mean his duties are reduced to turning up twice a month to register his presence, and collect his salary. It will be a hard transition for a man who fought on the front line for his country.

"I was fighting DAESH (Islamic State),'' he said.

"We know sacrifice but we didn't find anyone who would respect those circumstances. We want respect and compensation.''

Abdul Sahib Ridha, now 37, was on a reconnaissance mission in July 2007 targeting an al-Qaeda emir when around 14 al-Qaeda soldiers ambushed his two-car convoy.

"Two of our guys were martyred,'' he told News Corp.

He kept firing from the window of his car, but was shot multiple times, including in the back. While he was evacuated and American forces helicoptered him to a medical facility, he lost the use of his legs.

They are members of Voice of Righteousness, a disabled veterans group. Picture: Ella Pellegrini
They are members of Voice of Righteousness, a disabled veterans group. Picture: Ella Pellegrini

He was treated in both Turkey and Iran, but there was no money for top-level treatment in Germany, and he eventually lost the small amount of movement he had in his right leg, and can no longer control his bladder or bowels. Like Nabeal, he uses a wheelchair, in a country that is almost impossible to navigate with a disability.

"I had a boy four years old. His mother dumped him and me. Now he's a big boy, 12, and he got 99 per cent in his exam at school,'' he said.

Abdul was also unable to buy a house, and continues to rent, as well as raise his son.

He is paid a salary on the hospitals list but said he had lost his active soldier salary, bonuses, and would not get the grant of land that military personnel in Iraq used to get in earlier years.

There was also a nine-month period where he wasn't paid at all after the former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki sought to put injured veterans on a pension.

They resisted, and eventually were allowed to stay on the hospitals list as inactive military personnel.

"How did I survive? I am in a wheelchair, I have no house and I had a family,'' he asked.

The pension was around 400,000 Iraqi dinars - around $470 a month. Rent alone on his flat was 500,000 a month, or around $590 a month.

Abdul said he wanted to leave Iraq and seek asylum in another country.

Nabeal also urged the international community to help the injured veterans of Iraq, who were on the front line in the worldwide war against terror.

"United Nations, please, give us asylum,'' he said."

"We were fighters injured in a sacrifice for Iraq. Please prioritise us for asylum and we hope in due course we can come to another country.''

- Pictures by Ella Pellegrini



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