Iraqi Family Risks It All to Save American POW
By Sgt. Joseph R. Chenelly, USMC
Special to American Forces Press Service
MARINE COMBAT HEADQUARTERS, Iraq, April 4, 2003 New heroes have surfaced in the rescue of Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch.
Under the watchful eyes of more than 40 murderous gunmen, the 19-year-old supply clerk laid in Saddam Hospital suffering from several wounds and broken bones.
As her captors discussed amputating her leg, an Iraqi man, who for his protection will be identified only as Mohammad, leaned to her ear and whispered, "Don't worry." Lynch replied with a warm smile.
He was already working with U.S. Marines to gain the critical information needed to rescue one of the first American prisoners of war in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Just a day earlier, the lawyer from Nasiriyah had walked 10 kilometers to inform American forces he knew where Lynch was being held.
The shocked Marines asked him to return to the hospital and note certain things. He was tasked with counting the guards and documenting the hospital's layout. Knowing the risk, he agreed to help the young woman he had seen only once.
"I came to the hospital to visit my wife," said the Iraqi man whose wife was a nurse. "I could see much more security than normal."
The man asked one of the doctors about the increased security. "He told me there was a woman American soldier there."
Together, the two went to see her. Peering through the room's window, Mohammad saw a sight he claims will stay with him for a life: An Iraqi colonel slapped the soldier, who had been captured after a fierce firefight March 23 -- first with his palm, then with his backhand.
"My heart stopped," he said in a soft tone. "I knew then I must help her be saved. I decided I must go to tell the Americans."
Just days earlier, Mohammad had seen a woman's body dragged through his neighborhood. He said "the animals" were punishing her for waving at a coalition helicopter. The brutal demonstration failed to deter him from going to the Marines.
The same day he first saw Lynch, he located a Marine checkpoint. Worried he'd be mistaken for an attacker in civilian clothes, he approached the Marines with his hands high above his head.
"[A Marine sentry] asked, 'What you want?'" Mohammad said. "I want to help you. I want to tell you important information - about Jessica!"
After talking with the Marines, he returned to the hospital to gather information.
"I went to see the security," he said. "I watched where they stood, where they sat, where they ate and when they slept."
While he observed Saddam's henchmen, Mohammad said the notorious regime death squad paid his home an unexpected visit. His wife and 6-year-old daughter fled to nearby family. Many of his personal belongings, including his car, were seized.
"I am not worried for myself," he said. But "security in Iraq (that is still) loyal to Saddam will kill my wife. They will kill my (child)."
Meanwhile, Mohammad accompanied his friend into Lynch's tightly guarded room. She was covered up to her chin by a white blanket. Her head was bandaged. A wound on the right leg was in bad condition.
"The doctors wanted to cut her leg off," he said. "My friend and I decided we would stop it."
Creating numerous diversions, they managed to delay the surgery long enough. "She would have died if they tried it," he said.
Mohammad walked through battles in the city streets for two straight days to get to back to the hospital. His main mission was to watch the guards, but each morning he also attempted to keep Lynch's spirits strong with a "good morning" in English.
He said she was brave throughout the ordeal.
When reporting back to the Marines on March 30, he brought five different maps he and his wife had made. He was able to point to the exact room the captured soldier was being held in. He also handed over the security layout, reaction plan and times that shift changes occurred.
He had counted 41 bad guys and determined a helicopter could land on the hospital's roof. It was just the information the Marines needed.
American forces conducted a nighttime raid April 1. Lynch was safely rescued. She has since been transported to a medical facility in Germany.
Mohammad and his family are now in a secure location and have been granted refugee status. He doesn't feel safe in Nasiriyah, but he hopes things will improve as the war against the regime advances.
"Iraq is not a safe place while Saddam Hussein is in power," Mohammad said. "He kills the Iraqi people whenever he wants. I believe the Americans will bring peace and security to the people of Iraq."
Mohammad's wife said she wants to volunteer to help injured or sick American forces in the future.
"America came here to help us," he said. "The Marines are brave men. They have been gentle with the Iraqi people. They are taking out Saddam Hussein. For that, we're grateful."
Mohammad's family hopes to meet Lynch in the future.
(Sgt. Joseph R. Chenelly is assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.)