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Iraqis Pay Tribute to U.S. Service Members

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., May 27, 2004 – As the sound of "Taps" wailed from Army Sgt. Major Henry Sgrecci's bugle today, seven Iraqi citizens pressed their new prosthetic hands against their hearts at the Tomb of the Unknowns here to honor U.S. service members who have given their lives in Iraq.

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Seven Iraqi merchants put their new prosthetic hands across their hearts May 27 while laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in honor of U.S. service members killed in Iraq. Photo by Donna Miles
  

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The seven men, all Iraqi merchants, have been in the United States since mid- April to receive their new "bionic" hands to replace the ones amputated by former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein as punishment for trading in U.S. currency. In addition to providing them with new $50,000 prosthetic hands, U.S. doctors in Houston also removed the tattoos Saddam had imprinted on the merchants' foreheads to draw further attention to their misdeeds.

During this week's visit to Washington, D.C., the Iraqis made a pilgrimage today to Arlington National Cemetery, the final resting place for 65 service members killed in Iraq. There, the group laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns to honor U.S. service members killed while overthrowing the brutal regime under which they and millions of other Iraqis had suffered for decades.

Nasaar Jondi, one of the merchants, reflected on his predicament nine years ago, as he sat in prison waiting for Saddam's doctors to chop off his right hand. The night before his sentence was carried out, Jondi wrote his wife, "Do not be sad. Hopefully Allah will replace my hand with an even better one." Today, as the proud recipient of a new prosthetic hand made possible through donations by U.S. medical facilities, medical staff, companies and citizens, Jondi reflected on his new fortune personally and as an Iraqi citizen -- and the cost that made it possible.

"Without the tremendous sacrifices of American servicemen and women, we would never have had a new beginning and a new Iraq," he said.

Like nearly all Iraqis, Laith Agar had seen unforgettable suffering and death under Saddam which he said gives him a greater appreciation for life and an appreciation for those willing to lay theirs down for others.

"Life is the most precious thing for a human being, and these people have made the ultimate sacrifice," said Agar, a resident of Baghdad. "They came to Iraq and died for Iraq and for all humanity. We will never forget the contributions these heroes have made."

Basin Al Fadhly said he wanted to visit Arlington National Cemetery to pay tribute to America's fallen warriors "and to express gratitude to the American people and the American Army that carried out the liberation of Iraq from Saddam."

For Hassan Al Gearawy, the visit to Arlington was a way to express his appreciation to the families particularly the mothers of U.S. service members killed in his country's liberation. "I wanted to salute them and express my thanks and gratitude to the mothers of those martyrs," he said.

Earlier this week, the group visited the White House, where President Bush told them he was "honored to shake the hand of a brave Iraqi citizen who had his hand cut off by Saddam Hussein."

The president praised Dr. Joseph Agris, a plastic surgeon based in Houston, who conducted the surgery to put new prosthetic hands on the Iraqis, and Don North, a documentary producer who brought the plight of the seven merchants to Agris's attention.

"These men had hands restored because of the generosity and love of an American citizen," Bush said. "And I am so proud to welcome them to the Oval Office."

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Related Sites:
Arlington National Cemetery
Tomb of the Unknowns
Transcript of President Bush's Press Availability After Meeting Iraqis Who Received Medical Care in the United States, May 25, 2004

Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Spc. Patrick Moran, an "Old Guard" soldier from the 3rd U.S. Infantry, helps members of the Iraqi delegation lay a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery on May 27 to honor U.S. service members killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Photo by Donna Miles  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageProudly displaying their new prosthetic hands that replace those amputated by Saddam Hussein are, from left, Laith Agar, Hassan Al Gearawy, Qasim Kadhim, Salah Zinad, Basim Al Fadhly, Nazaar Jondi, and Alaa Hassan. Photo by Donna Miles  
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