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Counting the days.

A year ago Julie Ride's husband Paul, disappeared while working in Kuwait. Weeks went by without a word. Julie was repeatedly told her husband must be dead but was certain he was not. During a visit to Kuwait, seven weeks after his disappearance, Julie discovered her husband had been arrested by the Iraqis and was being held in Baghdad's notorious Abu Ghraib prison, where he remains.

PAUL RIDE WENT TO the Middle East in June 1991, like so many before him, for work. "He was doing agency work in England but it wasn't paying the mortgage and all the other bills that we had coming in," his wife recalls. Also the birth of his first son, William, caused Ride to reflect on his situation. "Paul could probably have earned the same amount of money he was getting in Kuwait in this county but to do that meant he wasn't getting any time at all with William. He was working nights for the agency, the baby was still tiny and Paul would see him for maybe an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening, the rest of the time he was either in bed or at work. His job in Kuwait meant he was away for 12 to 14 weeks but when he came back he was able to spend three full weeks at home and a decent amount of time with William," Julie recalls. Ride had been working in Kuwait as a catering manager for Taylor International for a year when he was arrested. His wife explains: "Paul had been helping set up an American Independence Day celebration party at Jahra, about 20 minutes north of Kuwait City, that was the last we heard of him for six weeks.

Unable to get any sense from the British Foreign Office or Paul's colleagues or employers, Julie decided she had no alternative but to take her baby son and travel to Kuwait to see for herself what the situation was there. "I originally intended to stay in Kuwait for four days. During that time I spoke to people Paul had been working with, his friends and workmates, to British government officials, even to the chief of police at Jahra, where he was last seen but nobody seemed to know anything. I think most people believed Paul was dead. But I was certain he was alive somewhere. I don't believe you can be that close to someone and not feel something if they are dead. It would be like cutting off your right arm, it couldn't happen without you feeling it, so I kept hoping for news. I gave a number of press interviews in the hope that somebody, somewhere would come forward with information. I knew he couldn't have just disappeared into thin air."

Despite Julie's efforts her trip to Kuwait had failed to make her any the wiser, or so it seemed. "It was not until just a few hours before I was due to fly home, I was actually packing my suitcase when I had a telephone call from the British Ambassador in Kuwait City to say Paul had been found in Iraq."

It seems that a television broadcast from Kuwait, highlighting Julie's plight, had been picked up by satellite in Iraq where it was seen by a Red Cross worker who had seen Paul in an Iraqi detention centre. The news was relayed to Red Cross headquarters in Switzerland and passed on to Julie via the British authorities in Kuwait. Despite her immense relief and excitement Julie flew back to England as planned. "I really felt that Paul would be released within a matter of day and so did just about everyone I spoke to in Kuwait. I thought that having been traced to Iraq, sorting out the misunderstanding was a formality."

But still stinging from the Gulf conflict and suffering the effects of sanctions imposed on them by the West, Iraq was not in a conciliatory mood. The authorities claimed Paul had crossed the border between Kuwait and Iraq "illegally". In August Julie learned the devastating news that her husband had been tried and sentenced to seven years imprisonment. She has since spoken to her husband about the trial.

"Paul didn't understand what was going on, nothing was explained to him, nor were the proceedings translated fully. The whole thing lasted about ten minutes. But what could he do? It was exactly the same when the Iraqis asked him to sign a document in Arabic. They said it was some sort of receipt for the vehicle he was driving when they picked him up. But it could have been anything, he couldn't read Arabic. It could have been a confession to murder, he wouldn't have known."

In November 1992 Julie saw her husband, in prison in Iraq for the first time for many months. He had been due home for good less than a month after he was arrested by the Iraqis. His contract with Taylor International had come to an end and they had been discussing plans for their future the last time they had been together. Now Julie faced Paul across a table in an Iraqi jail. "It was strange, really strange, like talking to a stranger," she recalls. "I have known Paul since we were at school and although we love each other the meeting was strained and distant. We only had four hours together. The whole situation seemed so unreal. I was shocked when told Paul had been sentenced to seven years but then I began to think because the charges were so flimsy they would let him go."

So far, however, there has been no indication that the Iraqis are even considering releasing Paul Ride. The British Foreign Office condemned his sentence as "deplorable" but, Julie says, "they refuse to deal with the Iraqis, they say they won't be blackmailed. They don't want to talk to the Iraqis and they don't want me to talk to the Iraqis. In fact they would like to shut me up so that I don't say anything to anybody. It seems the people at the Foreign Office want a nice, easy life, they didn't even want me to go and see Paul, they said that they didn't think I was doing the right thing by going."

But Julie will continue to visit her husband despite the Foreign Office and also Paul's concern that her trips to see him put an unbearable strain on the family's drastically reduced budget. "Paul's company pay me 50% of what his wages would have been, it amounts to |pounds~650 a month and that has to cover everything. I am not entitled to any sort of additional benefits." From this amount Julie has to pay her mortgage, heating, light, food and clothing bills for herself and William, now aged two. "It is hard," Julie admits, especially with the cost of airfares and hotel bills to Iraq. Donations from members of the public are what has kept her going financially and the help of her mother who has, as Julie points out, financial commitments of her own to meet.

Julie's last visit to see Paul was in February this year and she plans to travel to Iraq again in August. Dark haired and slim, 32-year-old Julie describes herself as being "a fairly independent person". Most people would describe her as determined and courageous. A former nursery school worker she was clearly unprepared for being thrust into the limelight yet she is not about to sit back and leave matters to the Foreign Office who, she believes, are not doing anything like enough to secure her husband's release. She says she's tougher as a result of Paul's imprisonment. She doesn't cry and, she feels, she has become cynical, mainly because people who could and should be helping to secure Paul's release do not appear to be doing so.

She bears no animosity towards the Iraqis. "I sympathise with them. I think they have been treated badly by the West." Julie admits she knew nothing of the Arab world or its people before her husband went to Kuwait and was never politically minded. However, that has changed. She now feels strongly that money impounded by the West should be released to allow the Iraqis to buy the essential supplies such as medicines and foodstuffs that would make their lives bearable. And she believes that if Iraqi monies held in the West were released and there was a relaxation of sanctions things for her husband and for all the other foreign prisoners held in Iraq would move more speedily towards a resolution. "I feel Paul's going to be in Iraq for a long time unless there is a change of attitude," she says.

While Paul shares a prison cell with 14 others, Julie attempts to keep life as normal as possible for her young son. A chatty, lively little boy of two and obviously very bright, it is the distance that can be measured both in miles and in time, between her husband and his son that concerns Julie most at the moment. "We just live through one day at a time. If I knew Paul was coming home next week or next month, I would be preparing for the day. But we don't know when he will be coming back. If nothing is done and he is forced to serve the full seven year sentence William will be nine years old. He is a normal active little boy who loves to rough and tumble. He needs his father."
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Title Annotation:Mosaic; the quest of Paul Ride's wife and son for his release from an Iraqi prison
Author:Lancaster, Pat
Publication:The Middle East
Date:Jul 1, 1993
Previous Article:Jordan: another dry summer.
Next Article:Keep it in the family.

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