Risking his life, Iraqi civilian helps rescue POW

Lawyer tipped off Marines to where fedayeen forces held Pfc. Jessica Lynch

War In Iraq

April 04, 2003|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

MARINE COMBAT HEADQUARTERS, Iraq - After watching a fedayeen commander slap Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch twice as she lay wounded in the hospital, an Iraqi tipped off the U.S. Marines about her location, leading to the dramatic rescue of the American POW.

"A person, no matter his nationality, is a human being," the man, a 32-year-old lawyer whose wife was a nurse at the hospital, said in an interview at Marines' headquarters, where he, his wife and daughter are being treated as heroes and guests of honor.

"He is an extremely courageous man who should serve as an inspiration to all of us to do the right thing," said Lt. Col. Rick Long, spokesman for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.

After he saw Lynch slapped by one of her captors, the lawyer slipped into her room at the Saddam Hospital in Nasiriyah and told the 19-year-old soldier, "Don't worry." Then he walked six miles to the nearest U.S. Marines, fearing they might shoot him on sight, and told them where she was.

A U.S. commando force whose name remains secret rescued Lynch early Wednesday local time. She was taken to Germany, where she was undergoing surgery yesterday at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center for a fractured disc, two broken legs and a broken arm.

According to reports from her hometown of Palestine, W.Va., Lynch said she had not been fed during her nine days of captivity. Her family said, however, that she had not been shot, as earlier reported.

The Iraqi lawyer who helped gave only his first name, Mohammed, out of fear of reprisal. He smiled as he recounted in broken but expressive English how he helped the Americans. He had learned English, he said, at Basra University.

Wearing Marine hand-me-downs after fleeing with only the clothes on their backs, Mohammed, his wife Iman, 32, a nurse at Saddam Hospital, and 6-year-old daughter Abir, seemed surprisingly cheerful for a family on the run.

Grateful Leathernecks showered them with Marine unit patches, a commemorative coin and an American flag on their way to a refugee center near the port of Umm Qasr, where they hope to ride out the war.

"I love America. I like America. Why, I don't know." Mohammed said. And he hated and feared the fedayeen.

He had not liked what he saw when he walked into the Saddam Hospital last Friday to visit his wife and was told by a doctor friend that an American woman POW was in the emergency ward. The friend walked him to the ground-floor ward, taken over by the feared fedayeen at the start of the war, and past a window where he saw Lynch who was captured after her convoy became lost near Nasiriyah in the opening days of the war.

Her head was bandaged, her right arm was in a sling over a white blanket and she had a wound to a leg. Worse, a black-uniformed fedayeen commander who everyone addressed as "colonel" slapped her, Mohammed said. "One, two," he added, making single slapping and back slap motions with his right hand. She was very brave, he recalled.

"My heart cut," Mohammed said, meaning it stopped. "There, I have decided to go to Americans to give them important information about the woman prisoner."

He walked into her room with his doctor friend. "I said `Good morning.' She thought I was a doctor. I say, `Don't worry.' She smiled," he recalled.

Doctors treating Lynch wanted to amputate her leg, Mohammed said, but his doctor friend persuaded them not to. His friend, he said, "hates Saddam Hussein and hates security of Saddam Hussein."

His wife took their daughter to his father's house for safety, and then set off on foot to find the Americans, fearing they might shoot him.

They asked him to return to the six-story, 234-bed hospital to gather information on its layout, its hallways, stairways and doors, its basement and whether a helicopter could land on its roof.

He walked there and back, under bombs, and drew a map for the Marines. There were 41 Fedayeen based at the hospital, with four guarding Lynch's room in civilian clothes but armed with AK-47 assault rifles and carrying radios.

Fedayeen raided his house the next day, he said, taking away all his possessions and even his Russian-made Moskvich car. A neighbor was shot and her body dragged through the streets just for waving at a U.S. helicopter.

He got his family out of Nasiriyah on Tuesday night, hours before a task force of U.S. commandos rescued Lynch in a raid.

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