‘She’s very angry,’ judge says of abducted child left in Iraq as dad sentenced to 2 years in jail

A Calgary father who stashed his daughter in Iraq with his two wives so the child’s mother would not have access to her has been sentenced to two years in jail, but with credit for the time he’s already served has just one year left.

In May, Ali Al Aazawi was convicted of abduction in contravention of a court order by provincial court Judge Greg Stirling. 

On Tuesday, after handing down the sentence, Stirling addressed Al Aazawi directly, imploring him to try to repair the relationship between his daughter, Zahraa, who is still in Iraq, and her mother, whose life has been “shattered” since her the girl was taken more than three years ago.

“The most difficult part of this trial for me was to observe the effect that your conduct has had on Zahraa,” said Stirling.

Zainab Mahdi initially consented to her then-10-year-old daughter taking a summer trip to an Egyptian resort in June 2018, with the plan of returning in September 2018 with her father.

When he took her to Iraq, text messages between the girl and her mother showed Zahraa was initially scared and wanted to come home.

But by the time the trial took place earlier this year, nearly three years after Zahraa was taken to Iraq, she expressed that did not want to return.

The judge found that once he was released on bail, Al Aazawi made “genuine efforts” to persuade his daughter to come back to Canada but she no longer wants to.

Zahraa ‘very angry’

The girl appears to have been brainwashed and refused to leave, expressing what the judge described as “anger and bitterness” toward her mother.

“What I observed in my dealing with Zahraa is that she’s very angry and my own experience is that most anger comes from somebody being very hurt,” said Stirling.

“Most children need both their parents’ love and I think what you can do to assure your daughter’s happiness … is you need to see if you can repair the damage between Zahraa and her mother.”

In 2018, Al Aazawi took the girl to Iraq and left her with family so that he could have complete control over her education, Stirling found when convicting the father earlier this year.

Al Aazawi wanted daughter to stay in Iraq 5 years

Mahdi said goodbye to her daughter Zahraa on June 16, 2018. She hasn’t seen her since.

When she first arrived in Iraq, Zahraa told her mother that her father had made plans for her to remain there for five years so she could attend school and learn the local culture and religion.

Mahdi said if she’d known that was the last time she’d see her daughter, she would have preferred to die.

Initially, Al Aazawi was in Iraq with Zahraa. There, police recorded a conversation between him and his ex-wife. During that conversation he said he would allow his daughter to return on the condition he have sole custody of Zahraa.

The day after police recorded that conversation, Al Aazawi flew back to Canada without his daughter. Police learned of his travel and arrested him at the Toronto airport.

Mother hospitalized with depression

In a victim impact statement, Mahdi also expressed worry that Zahraa believes she does not love her because she didn’t go to Iraq to bring her home.

Mahdi said as a woman she had no power in Iraq to bring Zahraa back to Canada.

The mother has suffered from depression since her daughter’s abduction to the point that she has been hospitalized.

She said she is “never not lonely” and feels like a “dead person in an alive body.”

342 days left to serve

Defence lawyer Balfour Der proposed a one-year sentence for his client, Ali Al Aazawi, while prosecutor Martha O’Connor asked the judge to send a message to stop other parents committing such egregious breaches of parental responsibilities.

Al Aazawi spent about eight months in jail before he was granted bail. 

Stirling imposed a 28 month sentence but gave Al Aazawi four months of credit for the strict bail conditions he’s been living under. The judge also gave him 388 days of credit for the time he served before getting bail. 

That means Al Aazawi has 342 days left on his sentence.

Following trial, Al Aazawi was found not guilty of the more serious offence of international kidnapping, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

In law, the victim of the kidnapping offence charge is the child. Despite Zahraa’s young age, Stirling could not find beyond a reasonable doubt that she travelled to Iraq against her will. There is no age limit on a youth’s ability to consent.

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