Wednesday, October 25, 2006

An Iraqi Hero

U.S. and Iraqi engineers working together at the An Nasiriyah drainage pump station project.
U. S. Army photos by James Bullinger.
By Polli Barnes Keller
Gulf Region North
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

TIKRIT---Having one brother murdered and a brother-in-law kidnapped and tortured, Sa'ad Rasheed narrowly escaped with his life, but continues working in the reconstruction of his country.

Daily, Iraq is featured in western media headlines. Reports of insurgents jam the news waves with doom and gloom. While the dangers are real and bad things happen, the real stories here are the ones of bravery and dedication.

Bricks and mortar may not be as exciting or as riveting as insurgents ambushing the innocent, but dedication and commitment to rebuilding a country, risking life and limb in doing so is certainly worthy of headline news and the attention of the world.

The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, Gulf Region North, employs 53 Iraqi citizens working in different fields of expertise. From project managers to construction representatives, these citizens are working to rebuild their country and their future in spite of the dangers in doing so.

One such employee is Sa'ad Rasheed, deputy resident engineer for a U. S. Army Corps of Engineers' resident office. Rasheed, an engineer by trade and veteran of the Iran-Iraq War in 1980, has journeyed through many heartbreaking moments in his life. Yet, he refuses to quit the mission and remains focused on ensuring a better future for his children and theirs to come.

Witnessing the suffering and damage committed to the Kuwaiti people by the government, Rasheed cultivated disappointment and hatred for the ruthless dictatorship that held Iraq captive. It was 1990 when his hopes and dreams for a better Iraq were restored as he watched U. S. Forces invade Kuwait.

But, these hopes and dreams soon faded as the war stopped dramatically and the U. S. embargo began. More and more each day, the poor people felt the stronghold of the restrictions put on Iraq while watching the regime grow in strength. Rasheed was again filled with disappointment.

Eight years later, elated with joy, Rasheed watched as the American Soldiers entered Baghdad and toppled statues of Saddam Hussein. Within days, he and his elder brother stood in front of the Meridian Hotel in Baghdad offering their services to the Americans.

While working as a linguist for the U. S. Army Civil Military Operations Center in Mosul, he received and opportunity to work with the 326th Engineering Battalion - 101st Division. It was here he gained a great respect for the American Soldier. he saw the great men of this organization as symbols of a high standard of humanity. He witnessed their discipline and respect for their mission and for Iraq.

Having an engineering background, it wasn't long before the leaders of the 326th offered Rasheed a position. The establishment of the American Field Engineering Support Team (AFEST) opened the door for a new life.

The AFEST team, designed to train Iraqi engineers in making assessments and estimating damage to buildings and facilities, worked with its counterpart, the Iraqi Field Engineering Support Team (IFEST) made up of local engineers in making key plans for all the damaged buildings and facilities in Mosul and the surrounding Northern provinces. Rasheed was the first Iraqi engineer hired.

Within eighteen months, the IFEST team possessed the expertise and capability to work on their own. The team covered most facilities in Mosul including hospitals, clinics, schools, police stations, courthouses, banks, electrical plants, water and irrigation stations, border facilities, grain silos, cement, textile and sugar factories, as well as oil deposits and refineries.

"The work was pure engineering, not mixed with any expectations or surprises; the common theme was the good relationship with the U. S. and the mutual care and understanding on both official and personal categories," said Rasheed.

Good things were happening with the reconstruction effort; however, the security situation worsened by the day. The engineers began receiving threats. Realizing they had no protection, members of the team began to leave for fear of losing their lives. Rasheed, the last engineer, moved his family three times to stay one step ahead of insurgents. Finally, no longer able to return to his office for fear of being seen, he decided to resign and the missions came to a stand still.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineer offered Rasheed a position in a northern region where it was sager. It was clear to him that the Corps truly cared about the people of Iraq, so he accepted the position and immediately moved his family.

Unfortunately, the insurgents did not give up. Two months after moving his family to the north, Rasheed's brother was murdered in front of an Internet cafe in Mosul. Still looking for information concerning his whereabouts, the insurgents kidnapped and tortured his 18-year old brother-in-law. The young man escaped during the night and went into hiding in Baghdad.

Still, they did not stop. The relentless team of insurgents went to the young man's home and threatened his 72-year old father. Swearing Rasheed has left the country, the gentleman paid the criminals $300,000 to ensure the safety of his refugee son. The stress of the event caused the old man to suffer a heart attack. He died a few weeks later. Grief stricken and afraid, Rasheed sent word to Baghdad for the brother-in-law to come north and live with his family.

Again, they would be tormented. Information received from friends in Mosul led to the evacuation of his family to yet another area in the north. The insurgents knew of his location and were on their way.

During this time of fear and unrest, Rasheed continued to work for the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. His hope for the future is that the U. S. and Iraq stay in contact and have more interaction for the good of both countries. He would like his people to participate in training courses and lectures, preferably in the U. S. so his country can observe and learn the system of democracy and liberty where it all began; to see the place where freedom has a real meaning.


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