2 brothers were separated in one of Saddam's jails. Now one believes he's found the other.
Forty years ago, two little brothers were hidden in one of the prisons of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
They were separated, their parents presumably killed.
Decades later, one of the former prisoners believes he has found his younger brother, and their October meeting in the scorching sunlight on a street in Baghdad was so raw and emotional that the audience burst into tears.
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Haydar Jawad Nasser says he has not seen his brother Ahmed since December 1980 and until recently did not know whether he was still alive. Ahmed says that until recently he didn't even know he had a brother.
The story of their meeting not only seemingly helped reunite a family broken by a brutal dictator, it is rare good news in a country still struggling nearly 20 years after the US invasion and decades after Saddam's uprising to get back to power in the oil-rich country.
Image: Ahmed Nasser as a young boy in Iraq.
In Iraq, other families could have similar stories about missing loved ones, as the broken Nasser family story is also about a broken country ravaged by dictatorship, a foreign invasion in 2003, deadly sectarian violence and a bitter war against the Islamic State militant group.
It's impossible to say for sure if these men are brothers since they don't need to take a DNA test just yet, but the potential for this to be all a tragic mistake doesn't seem to weigh on them.
Haydar, the older brother, said they would take a test if the court required it as they make their long journey to legally change Ahmed's identity. No one seemed to want biological evidence.
"The first time I saw Ahmed, I said to myself, 'Yes, this is my brother,'" Haydar, who is taller but has a nose similar to Ahmed, recently told NBC News. "I felt when I hugged him that he was Ahmed."
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If the men's suspicions are confirmed, it is clear that what happened to them in Baghdad prison all those years ago has taken them down dramatically different paths, with one escaping Iraq and the other being left behind.
Their different circumstances also mean that their meeting is a joy for Haydar, while for Ahmed it is a mixed blessing. He says knowing that he had a brother in Haydar came with the realization that his birth parents are most likely dead.
"There is great sadness in me as much as there is great joy," said Ahmed tearfully. "Joy because I knew my story, my story, my family and the sadness because I knew what happened to my father and mother."
The Nasser family was torn apart in the fall of 1980. It was a Sunday evening in September when Iraqi security forces raided their family home in Baghdad's mostly Shiite Habibiya neighborhood and arrested Nasser, his pregnant wife Ibtisam, their two sons and an aunt, Haydar remembered who had visited him.
The boys' father was a high-ranking leader of the Dawa party, a Shiite Islamist group and political opponent of Saddam - now one of the most powerful political parties in Iraq. The previous year, 1979, Saddam had taken power and took immediate action against any political opposition, even among members of his own Ba'ath Party.
Image: Saddam Hussein (Pierre Perrin / Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
Nasser's political activities put his family in custody, and his children and wife languish in a filthy dark hall, Haydar said. Then, at age 4, Haydar recalls being blindfolded and taken to the men's prison, where he says he was used to extracting information from his father. His younger brother was just 2 years old.
"I could hear the men groaning," he recalled. "I saw my father and how the signs of torture appeared on his body."
After the boys were incarcerated for three months, their grandmothers slipped into a daring scheme - smuggling them under the folds of their cloaks, Haydar said. Her paternal grandmother was able to leave prison with Haydar, but when they later returned to Ahmed there was no trace of him, his mother or his aunt, he said.
Haydar later found a decision to have his mother and father executed, but said there was no document mentioning Ahmed and nothing about whether his mother, who was six or seven months pregnant, when she was in Imprisonment came, had given birth in prison and if so what happened to the baby? NBC News saw a copy of a judge's order to kill Ibtisam, and Nassar was also executed in 1980, according to the Basra Martyrs' Foundation.
Haydar said for decades that he didn't know what happened to Ahmed. And in 2009, nearly 30 years after his disappearance, a death certificate was issued for Ahmed and a statue of the two-year-old estates in the Iraqi Establishment of Martyrs, an official body that cares for the families of the Baathist's victims' government, Haydar said.
For all that, Haydar was convinced that his little brother was still alive and breathing somewhere between the ruins of war-torn Iraq, or perhaps beyond its borders.
Ahmed, for his part, cannot remember anything, neither that he had a brother named Haydar, nor that he was in prison. Ahmed said he grew up with the family of the then mayor of the more affluent Karrada district of Baghdad, who found him and another boy abandoned on a street in December 1980.
Image: Jawad Nasser and Ibtisam Nasser.
The prison where the brothers were held was in Baghdad's southeastern Zafaraniyah neighborhood, a 20-minute drive from the streets of Karrada, where Ahmed was found battered and injured. It wasn't until he was 12 years old that he was told by his family that they were not his biological relatives, he added.
Ahmed refused to give his legal name for fear of embarrassing his adoptive family, who had taken him in despite having three daughters, a decision that can arouse contempt in Iraq. One of his sisters just told her husband that, given his recent meeting with Haydar, Ahmed was not her biological brother, he said.
In September, a neighbor of the mayor's family spotted a relative of Haydar's Facebook post about Ahmed and found the circumstances were the same as the 2-year-old boy found on the street 40 years earlier, Haydar said. The neighbor made contact with Haydar's aunt and it was agreed that the two men should meet, he added.
Haydar sits side by side in his uncle's house in Baghdad, mainly talking. It is clear that he is overjoyed with what he thinks is the discovery of his long-lost brother.
"All of my dreams have come true," he said.
Ahmed said he was happy too, but was clearly shaken by the experience.
Haydar now lives in Sweden, where he sells cosmetics and has six children with his wife Sukaina Ali Nasser. He is well educated and has a Masters degree in Islamic Studies and Philosophy from Al-Mustafa University in Iran. He points to conversations with the likes of William Shakespeare.
In contrast, Ahmed said his training was dropped out because he did not have official identification. He then took a position in the restaurant industry in Baghdad, where he now works as a chef. He has four children with his wife Noor Mousa. Although he is younger than Haydar, he looks older.
"Sometimes I think to myself and say it is better to live my life the way I have lived it for the past 40 years, hoping to meet my father and mother and take them in my arms," said he. "But that is my fate and fate and praise be to God for everything."
His eyes filled with tears and his hands trembled when he said he wanted to tell his parents that he missed them. Ahmed said he had already lost his adoptive father, who was killed in a car accident just four years after being accepted into the family, and that he has now found out that his birth father may have been executed under Saddam.
"Haydar is like my father now," he said.
For his part, Haydar seemed content to take on the role and hopes Ahmed and his family can immigrate to Sweden.
"I promise my father and mother that I would never let my brother down, I will stand by him, he is the only one who reminds me of them," he said. "He is my son."
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