On August 2nd, 1990, also known as Black Thursday, then-Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, in a feeble attempt to erase Kuwait from the map, invaded the country to murder, steal, torture, rape, and obliterate everything in sight. Overnight, the Iraqi troops turned Kuwait, the Pearl of the Gulf, into a scene of utter chaos and destruction. During that time, Kuwaitis tasted the pain, felt the horror and experienced the pain of the worst kinds of torture.
Every so often in history, there comes along a hero who, when faced with peril, sacrifices their very being so that others may be blessed with a better life. Unassuming, these heroes stand up when others are dragged down and lead the way when all seems lost. Lucky for those around her during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Asrar Mohammed Mubarak Al-Qabandi was one of those fearless warriors who poured her blood, sweat, tears—and ultimately—life into the resistance movement against the oppressors of her fellow citizens. Asrar did not cower in fear or sit idly by as her country was overrun, but instead chose to face grave danger head on-in what was to become a relatively short but bloody battle to restore Kuwait to its rightful owners.
Born on November 23rd, 1959, Asrar, the sixth of her siblings, devoted her life to gaining a proper and extensive education. She was educated in Kuwait up until the age of 18 when she left to England for an English Language course, and after three years earned her high school degree from Colorado in the US. A computer major, Asrar managed to master computer functions which would later make her invaluable to the Kuwaiti resistance and a direct target to the Iraqis. She went on to earn three master degrees in education, economics, and handicap rehabilitation. Asrar worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the information center, established a nursery school, and regularly volunteered at the Khalifa Pearl Association (a non-profit organization) to take care of Autistic children. She loved volunteering and enjoyed devoting her time to charity immensely.
Little did the Iraqi invaders know when they charged into Kuwait—gentle, kind, intelligent, dignified, gracious Asrar would prove to be a far more threatening and formidable force than they could have possibly imagined from one woman.
Asrar painfully watched alongside the rest of the world as her country was overrun with maniacal invaders bent on destroying everything in sight. Watching the destruction moved the deep-seated patriotic feelings inside her that would not allow her to stand aside. She immediately sprung into action and joined the resistance movement. Her first mission involved acquiring a list from the Bahraini Embassy in Kuwait of important persons to be smuggled safely out of the country. The first of many victories, her first mission was a success. Many members of the royal family have Asrar to thank for their safety.
Some of her other victories include smuggling weapons from Basra to Kuwait, money and more weapons from Saudi Arabia, single-handedly destroying the monitored telephones and communications set up by the Iraqis, providing targeted Kuwaitis with new ID’s to protect them from harm, providing foreign families with food and money, and taking care of 65 foreign hostages, risking a guaranteed execution.
Asrar also managed to pull off some amazing brazen stunts. Disguised as an Indian domestic worker, she was able to breach the heavily guarded Ministry of Civil Information and smuggle all the discs of the public institution of the civil information to Saudi Arabia. She then managed to come back over the border with new identity “Sara Mubarak”, past the half million Iraqi soldier guards to continue to give the invaders a hard time. She bombed many cars seized by the opposition and killed many Iraqi soldiers and continually sent reports about the condition of Kuwaiti families to the make-shift Kuwaiti government headquarters in Taef, Saudi Arabia. She was also able to acquire and preserve all the information on Kuwaiti accounts from the Central Bank of Kuwait in order to prevent Iraqis from acquiring the accounts themselves. The first one to discover that Iraqis were planning to taint the petrol reserves with a phosphoric material, she managed to get a map of their targets.
Not one to let her countrymen suffer in silence, Asrar planned to let the world know about the atrocities taking place in her homeland. She sent out pictures of tortured and mangled martyrs for the world to see. She assured Kuwait’s cry for help was heard by calling the famous American media interviewer and presenter Barbara Walters.
She continued her brazen and fearless fight for justice until one fateful Sunday afternoon—November 4, 1990—when Asrar finally succumbed to the perils of the dangerous game she was playing. Iraqi soldiers were finally able to capture and arrest Asrar and they took her to a prison camp, where she withstood 70 days of torture without revealing a single piece of information. She was offered to join Saddam Hussein in what he thought would be easy victory, but she boldly refused, even when faced with gruesome bodily harm.
At 5am on January 12th, 1991 she performed her daily prayers, and at 2:30pm was taken to Al Mashatel prison camp where for two days she endured excruciating torture at the hands of Iraqi intelligence officers. Each of her nails were torn right off their nail beds, her tiny body repeatedly electrocuted with machines built specifically for that purpose, her eyes gouged out, her head repeatedly bludgeoned with a sharp cleaver, shredded with an electric ripping saw.
After two nights of relentless torture, Asrar was shot twice in the stomach and once in the chest. Her lifeless and desecrated body was then thrown in front her father’s house in Dahiat Abdulla Al-Salem in a gruesome display of disdain for her family.
19 years have passed since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait—an event which has carved out an irreparable scar in the heart of every Kuwaiti. Asrar Al-Qabandi died a hero and is immortal in our minds, souls, and country’s history. She fought for her country with every fiber of her being—until the last drop of blood was squeezed out of her, the last breath in her soul crushed by unrelenting torture. Asrar Al-Qabandi resonates with every beat of our hearts and her life will continue to be celebrated, even long after she is gone.
- Khaled Al-Bannay
Originally published August 2, 2009