The last Iraqi soldier to have fought against Israel in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War that saw the establishment of the State of Israel and the displacement of 700,000 Palestinians from their ancestral homes, passed away peacefully on Friday.
Haj Hussein Muhammad Al-Samarrai passed away at the age of 95 surrounded by his children and grandchildren in his ancestral hometown of Samarra, 125 kilometres north of the capital Baghdad.
Al-Samarrai was known for recounting his stories and memories from the battles he fought at the age of 24 in 1948, as a part of what he believed was a sacred struggle to defend Palestine from Jewish colonialism, and to preserve the Palestinian people on their own lands.
Al-Samarrai's family members and loved ones told the Arabi21 news website that they were surprised by how much Palestinian media outlets took note of and marked the passing of their aged hero. The fact that Palestinians remembered Al-Samarrai's role in defending their rights and honour lifted the spirits of the family at a difficult and painful time.
A member of his family said:
Our dearly departed never forgot, and even at an advanced age, the battles that he took part in as a soldier in the Iraqi Armed Forces. He reached Lake Tiberias but after that the Iraqi army was ordered to withdraw
His family said that they viewed him as an exemplar and someone whom they were deeply proud of. According to the Al-Samarrai family, he would always recount his wartime stories to his children and grandchildren, and remember with pride his time in Palestine.
Al-Samarrai had to leave his hometown recently in order to receive treatment as far away as Erbil, rather than being welcomed in the capital Baghdad, a city far closer to him, as a hero and treated there. Upon returning to Samarra, he fell into a coma before passing away.
The aged warrior's family expressed the pain they felt at the state of affairs of their country, Iraq, and how the Iraqi military has departed from its valiant roots since the illegal US invasion in 2003. The Iraqi armed forces fought Israel in Palestine proper in 1948, and again on the Golan Front in Syria during the 1973 October War.
Al-Samarrai was a combat engineer with the Iraqi Fifth Brigade, who fought with distinction and managed to save many Palestinian lives in Jenin and elsewhere.
Iraq's military efforts to protect Palestine have been immortalised by the presence of many graves belonging to Iraqi soldiers on Palestinian soil. These Iraqi men gave their lives so that Palestine may be free.