Fayeq Abdul-Jaleel

Fayeq Mohammed Ali Al-Ayadhi
Born Fayeq Mohammed Ali Al-Ayadhi
(1948-05-05)May 5, 1948
Died Unknown, missing January 3, 1991 (aged 42) and declared dead June 18, 2006 (aged 58)
His remains were found in a mass grave in Iraq desert, West of Karbala city.
Cause of death Executed – Bullet wound to the head
Resting place Kuwait, Al-Sulaibikat cemetery
Nationality Kuwait
Occupation Poet
Years active 1964–90

Fayeq Mohammed Al-Ayadhi (Arabic: فائق محمد علي العياضي) (May 5, 1948– ?), better known by his pen name Fayeq Abdul-Jaleel (Arabic: فائق عبدالجليل), was a prominent Kuwaiti poet, playwright and lyricist whose work was well known throughout the Arab world. He was captured by Iraqi forces during the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and he was the best known of more than 600 Kuwaiti civilians who were held as prisoners of war by Saddam Hussein's government. He was never seen by his family or friends again until his remains were unearthed in the Iraqi desert in 2004. The timing and manner of his death is a matter of some enduring mystery.

Life and work

Fayeq Abdul-Jaleel was born in Kuwait City and started out as a painter before coming to prominence at the age of 19 with a collection of poems entitled Wasmiah and the Stalks of Childhood (1967).[1] He went on to publish several more books of verse and also penned the lyrics to several songs that became popular in the Arab world, collaborating with singers including Mohammed Abdu (Abaad, Layla, Layla, Filjaw Ghaim), Talal Maddah and Abu Baker Salem, and many well known singers. He also wrote several plays performed in his homeland, including Kuwait's first puppet play (1974), and was active in the administration of Kuwait's national theater company. His signature style was to write in an Arabic somewhere between the formalism of the classical language and the regionally tinged spoken vernacular. He saw poetry as political, something that could act as an engine of social change. "Poetry," he wrote in a verse from 1968, "is one grain of wheat which enters all ovens and bakeries to feed all the people." His poetry also reflected a deep attachment to Kuwait itself and a sense of foreboding about his own ultimate fate – earning him comparisons to the great Spanish Civil War-era poet Federico Garcia Lorca.[2][3][2]

To earn a living, Abdul-Jaleel worked for the municipality of Kuwait City and also acted as an advocate for the arts for the Kuwaiti Information Ministry, traveling extensively throughout the Arab world. He also ran his own advertising agency. He married his cousin Salma Al-Abdi in 1967 and had five children: Gadah (born 1971), Fares (1972), Raja (1978), Sara (1983) and Nouf (1985).

The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait

When Iraqi forces unexpectedly overran Kuwait on August 2, 1990, Abdul-Jaleel was caught in Kuwait City with his wife and four-year-old daughter Nouf. His other children were spending the summer outside the country. He embarked on a high-risk adventure to drive his wife and child to the desert border with Saudi Arabia, but chose not to leave with them, telling his wife he wanted to put a few affairs in order before joining the family overseas. In the end, he could not bear to leave – as he ended up explaining in a letter to his loved ones that was recovered after the end of the 1991 Gulf War from the family's kitchen table.[4] Rather, he joined a loose civilian resistance movement along with a handful of fellow poets and musicians. Together, they wrote and recorded poems and music intended to embolden the Kuwaiti population against the invaders.[5] They had a whole system in place, involving a network of women who hid the cassettes they recorded in the fold of abayahs and distributed them from house to house.

They were, however, victims of their own success. Kuwaitis talked so much about the poems and songs that the Iraqis got wind of them, worked out who was responsible and, on January 3, 1991, arrested the lot of them.

Imprisonment and death

The fate of the Kuwaiti prisoners has never been determined with any precision. The US government now believes they were probably all executed shortly after the end of the Gulf War. But that was not the US position before the 2003 invasion of Iraq; in fact, the return of the prisoners was cited as a secondary reason for launching the invasion in the first place. Throughout the 1990s, the Arab-language media reported occasional sightings of Abdul-Jaleel and other prisoners in one location or another.[6]

His remains were unearthed from a shallow mass grave in the desert near Kerbala in July 2004. He was identified by the intact label inside his traditional Kuwaiti robe, showing the name of his tailor.[7] and by a series of DNA tests. According to his death certificate, issued by the Kuwaiti Health Ministry in June 2006, he had been dead for more than 10 years at the time his remains were discovered. However, the DNA test, conducted by the Interior Ministry and obtained by Abdul-Jaleel's family, suggested the remains were of a man in his early fifties – the age he would have been around the time of the 2003 invasion.

Abdul-Jaleel's son, Fares Al-Ayadhi, has conducted numerous interviews with people who claim to have seen his father down the years, including an indirect contact with a man who says he was the commander at a prison outside Basra where Al-Ayadhi was held. The younger Al-Ayadhi's information, which has neither been confirmed nor refuted by the Kuwaiti authorities, suggests that Abdul-Jaleel and a number of other prisoners deemed to be of high value to Saddam's government were kept alive for several years.

Al-Ayadhi believes his father was held first in Mosul, then in the Baghdad area and finally in the prison near Basra. According to the man Fares Al-Ayadhi believes to have been his father's last prison commander, he and the other surviving Kuwaiti prisoners of war were sentenced to death shortly before the start of the US invasion in March 2003, driven into the desert and shot.[8]

Abdul-Jaleel's body was brought back to Kuwait where he was buried on June 20, 2006 in Kuwait City's Al-Sulaibikhat cemetery. The ceremony was attended by the deputy prime minister, defence minister, acting interior minister and several other government dignitaries.


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