Michael's Dispatches

Happy Ending

Published: 19 November 2008

Between 2007 and 2008, I got to know a man in South Baghdad whose codename was “Bishop.”  This is the short story of his life.

His parents were Kurdish Sunnis.  They moved to Baghdad 34 years ago – recently married and excited to make a new life for themselves and create a family.  Bishop’s real name was Bashar Akram Ameen; the name given to him when he was born on October 6, 1978 in the Abu Ghraib apartments in Baghdad.  Bashar had three sisters and one brother.  His schooling included graduating from a Baghdad high school in the class of ’96 and attending the Agriculture College of Baghdad University from 1997 until 2002 when he graduated.  America had just set its sights on toppling Saddam.
 
Shortly after graduating, Bashar began service in the Iraqi Army Reserve, but that lasted only three months, because the U.S. crushed a great part of the Iraqi Army and then officially dissolved the rest.  For three months, Bashar was one of those unemployed young men we worried about.  He got a job in October of 2003 as a bodyguard for an Iraqi judge.  His first job didn’t last long because insurgents assassinated the judge.  Feeling lost and a bit frightened, Bashar decided to look for a “safer” job, and began interpreting for, as he called it, “the Sally Port Security Company” in al-Mansour, Baghdad.  Insurgents in his neighborhood figured out that he was working for an American company, and on February 21, 2006, as he left his job at 6:00 pm, they started shooting at him in his car, “…but I miraculously survived,” Bashar  explained to me, “and that was the reason to leave my job at that company.”

His own safety, and therefore that of his loved ones, was in jeopardy, and so, as Bashar recalled, “I quit visiting my family for over four months.”  Though he had used caution, his family was forced to flee in order to avoid imminent suffering or death from the insurgents. Bashar explained, “They had killed our neighbor’s son, so their father gave the key of his house to my father to keep the house safe until maybe the situation getting better.  Then, on the next day, the same killers of our neighbors came to my father and asked him about the key, so he refused to give it away and he said that he don’t have it and he don’t know anything about it.”  The insurgents warned Bashar’s father that they would check the validity of his information, and if it was untrue, “they will teach my father and us a lesson.” His family, doing what they must to survive, reluctantly left their home.  Bashar wrote to me, “My father packed some basic stuff and moved from our own house in Ameriya, Baghdad; Iraq.”

By now, the civil war was raging in Baghdad.
 
Not everything was so bleak.  Even at the height of the civil war, life went on.  Bashar met a woman named Alyaa, who worked in legal administration at the “Sally Port Security Company.”  They courted for a year, and got married on September 14, 2006 –  all the while, sectarian violence raged around Iraq.  A year later their first son, Mustafa, was born. Around that time, however, the local Shia militia (called Jaish al-Mahdi, or JAM) figured out that Bashar, who is Sunni, had worked for the Americans at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Falcon (where he got the codename “Bishop”). “They began coming around to bother my wife while I was at work,” he recalls. “So we moved again to live in al-Mansour, Baghdad. And since then, I stopped making any type of relationships with the neighbors just because you can’t trust anybody.  In al-Mansour, we had very quiet time….”
 
And so Bashar began working for the American Army as an interpreter, for various units, at the time of peak fighting.  I first met Bishop when he worked for 1-4 Cav in South Baghdad.  The 1-4 Cav soldiers kept Bishop busy, working him hard, and he became one of the team.  As the months rolled by and I came back to 1-4 on several occasions, their area had become quieter and quieter until, really, there was nothing going on except progress.  The younger infantrymen were proud of the progress, but wanted to get up to Mosul or out to Afghanistan, where the fighting was.  But not Bishop.  He’d seen the worst of it and did not want to see any more war.  He was old beyond his years and wanted peace.
 
Bishop with General Petraeus (center) and LTC Crider (right)


The two most dangerous jobs for Iraqis were probably journalist and interpreter.  Bishop wanted to come to the United States.  As a result, 1-4 Cav Commander, LTC James Crider, and some of the soldiers Bishop had worked with helped with the paperwork.
 
Just a small aside: LTC Crider and his battalion were serious contributors to success in Iraq.  I got e-mails from LTC Crider about his struggles with Iraqi bureaucracy on behalf of Bishop, even after he went home to America.  I’d seen this LTC Crider go to bat for Iraqis over and over again in Iraq.  In just one example, Crider and his staff waded for months through the Iraqi legal labyrinth to try to free a man who had been wrongfully detained for a bombing he could not have committed; the bombing had never occurred.  Crider and his battalion were welcome fixtures in that neighborhood, because he and his men had brought peace and serenity to a place that had previously been one of the most perilous places in Iraq.  The last time I was there, I walked around with no body armor or helmet, and bought popcorn on the street.  (I was just there again on about November 15; the progress continues without violence.)

I heard that many Iraqis cried when 1-4 redeployed to America.  One captain had even been offered a home if he would come back to live in the neighborhood.  The captain knew how to get things done, while still making the time to learn the names of every kid there.  And he knew their mothers and fathers, too.  But that was it; 1-4 went home and Bishop was left behind, with his family scattered by the war.
 
His father died in July 2007, his mother and two sisters still live in Baghdad, his brother in Kirkuk, and another sister in Syria.
 
LTC Crider and others struggled…and struggled…and finally succeeded.  On November 6, 2008, Bishop emigrated to America, landing in [Nashville], Tennessee along with his wife, Alyaa (who is carrying their second child), and their son, Mustafa.  And the amazing 1-4 Cav keeps winning battles, without firing a shot, long after leaving the war.

So now, Bashar is no longer “Bishop,” and he has begun an American life, with the many ups and downs we all have to face.  His next fight is to find a job in our troubled economy and overcome a high-voltage dose of culture shock.  He will come to understand that our culture is just as complicated as the one he left behind – but without the violence, threats and scars of war.

Many people have welcomed him to America.  I think Bashar can be of particular value to America at this time, simply by getting on the radio stations and talking to reporters and telling his story – the story of Iraq –  and showing people how it really is over here.  (I write this from Iraq.)  Perhaps he can explain why many of us think that it was all worth it.  I asked Bashar if I could publish his e-mail address, and he agreed.

This is not just a happy ending, but a happy beginning.  Please welcome this new family to America and pass this story to your local papers and radio stations.  Ask them to talk with a real Iraqi who just got here.  People need to know what happened in Iraq.   

Bashar can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Comments   

 
# Kanani 2008-11-19 17:06
Ah... a wonderful saga and hats off to LTC Crider for not giving up. Welcome to America, Bashar! You'll find us a nation of immigrants --mine came over in the 1900's to escape the overriding poverty and utter lack of opportunity in China. I'll pass this on to my friends at the LA Times Pressmen.
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# AVN 2008-11-19 17:33
Bashar:

You have never met me, and most likely you never will. But I cannot tell you how thankful I am for the loyal and courageous service you have performed on behalf of the United States and your fellow Iraqis as a translator. People who serve as translators are among the most important people in the entire war -- your efforts help to keep the focus of operations on bad guys, and protect the innocent. Which is precisely why the insurgents concentrate their terrorist actions on folks like yourself. The innocent Iraqi lives you have saved, and the American Soldiers who were able to return to their families safe and sound, can never thank you enough.

I am especially pleased that you were able to come here to America at long last. It shames me to think of all the tens of thousands of courageous Iraqis who have played critical roles in the war, and yet who have been turned away by my country. I am happy to hear that you were one of the lucky ones who made it through the bureaucratic thicket.

Lastly, I strongly encourage you to use your voice and your story to help maintain American awareness of, and support for, the many thousands of Iraqis who have sacrificed and risked everything in order to work with and for the Americans and their elected Iraqi government. Many Americans don't realize that success in Iraqi hinged on the willingness of people like you to step up and take huge risks. And it was not just you who bravely faced these risks -- everybody who you loved and care about also was on the firing line. Most Americans don't realize that we have a moral obligation to back up and support the Iraqi people like yourself who worked as translators, security personnel, government workers, etc. If America abandons people like you in Iraq, how can America ever expect to receive the support we need in other countries (such as in Afghanistan)? The truth is, if the Obama Administration and Congress foolishly abandons folks like you in Iraq, we can kiss any hope of winning over future folks like yourself in Afghanistan and in other places good bye.

In the Vietnam War, America recruited and worked alongside many hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, Montagnard, and Hmong people. Like you, these folks risked everything they had to work alongside or military and political forces. Shamefully, when America pulled out of Vietnam in 1973, we cut these people loose and abandoned them into the hands of vengeful and bloodthirsty Communist forces who promptly butchered and imprisoned them in 1975 when Saigon fell. Some of these folks (and their descendants) still languish to this very day in squalid refugee camps in Southeast Asia. It was one of the darkest chapters in American history in my opinion. America must never allow such a thing to happen again. We must never allow our allies and people who bravely helped support their own people and assisted our Soldiers, be hung out to dry when American public resolve starts to weaken. People with your life story are essential in preventing a repeat of that shameful American history.

Again, thank you for everything you have done, and I wish you and your family the best of luck and fortune here in America. You have certainly earned this opportunity many times over.
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# Maggie45 2008-11-19 18:40
Michael, thank you so much for letting us know about Bashar and his family. I read your article on Pajamas Media yesterday, and immediately sent an email to him thanking him for helping the US, and for the selfless service he was performing for his fellow Iraqis. I have him and his family on my daily prayer list now. Thank you again.
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# Ken Juen 2008-11-19 20:48
This article should be sent to the NY and LA Times. I am sure they would love to get this positive story out to the nation.
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# Solo 2008-11-20 12:13
E-mail sent, family welcomed. I hope they make a good life here.
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# mary g 2008-11-20 17:48
God bless you, your friends and your allies.

A Soldier's Mom
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# JeffLF 2008-11-21 00:05
This article made my day, my week and my year.

Welcome to America and blessings to you and your family.

Jeff
Plano, Texas
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# Tim OKeefe 2008-11-21 00:31
Bashar
Welcome to America. I hope your dreams come true!

Michael
Your stories sustain me. Thank you!

LTC Crider
I have a soldier son in training right now. I have peace like a river knowing that we have leaders like you watching over our children.
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# Knottie 2008-11-21 00:49
Michael... You have to get Pat to have him on his show!! I would love to hear this man's amazing story in his own words. This is the reason my son went to fight.. this man and all the other Iraqis like him who just want a better life for themselves and their country.
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# go gipper 2008-11-21 03:29
Thanks for protecting our sons with the 1-4 and may the blessings of Freedom and Peace be with you always.
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# Escaflowne 2008-11-21 13:33
I do not live in the US, nor am I an American.

I work with immigrants in my country, and lately there have been many Iraqi's coming here, since the start of the war. I have met people who has had to flee Iraq because of helping American forces. This because of insurgents threatening both them, and their families because of the aid they provided for the US forces. I spoke with several of them, and one person in particular came to mind when reading this here article. He had also been working with the US forces, as a translator. Allthough, when the unit he worked for moved on, his services was no loonger needed. By then, the insurgents had realized he had been working with the US forces, and threatened to kill him and his family. He received no help whatsoever from the US in this matter though, he was simply told that if he got hold of a green card he MIGHT be able to get to go to the states, but that besides that there was nothing, or very little that could be done for him. When I met him, he was still trying to get hold of a green card so that he could go to the US. I have never really heard him resenting the US or speaking negatively about the US armed forces, but he is a bit perplexed as to why when they had no need for his services anymore, he was just abandoned.

The above story is perhaps a step in the right direction, but there is still a very long way to go. Blessing one person for having made it to the US does not really help dozens of others who are still trapped in Iraq. Instead might be you should start wondering what you can do, to actually allow for those others that helped, but were not as lucky as "Bishop" here, to get the same chance.

I've spoken to many Iraqis who fled, and I can say this, while many are happy Saddam is gone, they still question the progress in Iraq. Many of them have family and friends down there still, and they hear alot of bad things going on every day down there. Even though they are safe in this country of mine, I can still see that they are haunted with fear for either loved ones or friends.

Don't get me wrong here. I am not trying to slander the USA, because I don't really have any trouble with either Americans or USA. Doesn't mean I think everything done in the name of USA is actually done the right way, but badmouthing an entire nation for decisions made by it's leaders seems a bit silly to me in my opinion.

This is a story of success, and I figure we all kinda like those. But don't let this one story blind you to think that things are now solved, because there are still many people in the same situation left behind.

My hat goes off to LTC Crider though for making the effort of saving one soul out of many. I figure in a way, if there is a will, there is a way.
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# Kendra Howard 2008-11-21 17:08
I am so happy to read this article! My husband was in this troop/unit/what everitis (yeah, i don't know the military lingo haha) with LTC Crider (1-4 CAV). I was so happy to have him come back home this past April but I am also happy to hear that they did many good things over there!! He has told me several stories, but it's good to see one of them public :-)
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# Scott Dudley 2008-11-21 17:25
I have forwarded this story on to about 500 former military officers, many of whom still work in corporate America. I am hopeful one of them picks up on this and lends a hand.
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# conservativechic 2008-11-24 01:59
Thanks so much for sharing this great story out of Iraq. It's difficult to get concrete, accurate stories via the mainstream media. It's good to hear about the good, noble women and men working in Iraq, for Iraq. The leftist illuminati have their own agenda to push, so thanks for simply reporting what's happening on the ground.
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# Rodriguez 2011-07-27 17:56
I worked hand to hand with Bishop. He is a great person and I love him as a brother. I remember when we lost our first Soldier, we all cried together, so did Bishop. I hope he finds in America everything he deservs. May God bless you and your family Bishop!! :-)
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