| Jessica Lynch being carried on a stretcher to a hospital at the US base in Ramstein, southern Germany, on Thursday. (AP/PTI)
Marine Combat Headquarters (Iraq), April 4: Mohammed, a gregarious 32-year-old Iraqi lawyer, went by the hospital in Nasiriyah one day last week to visit his wife, who worked there as a nurse, when he noticed the ominous presence of security agents.
Curious, he asked around, and a doctor friend told him an American soldier was being held there. Something made him want to go see. The doctor took him to a first-floor emergency wing where he pointed out the soldier through a glass interior window — a young woman lying in a bed, bandaged and covered in a white blanket.
Inside the room with her was an imposing Iraqi man, clad all in black. Mohammed watched as the man slapped the American woman with his open palm, then again with the back of his hand. In that instant, Mohammed recalled yesterday, he resolved to do something.
The next day, when the man in black was not around, Mohammed sneaked in to see the young woman. “Don’t worry, don’t worry”' he told her. He was going to help.
As he recounted the events today, that decision set in motion one of the most dramatic moments in the first two weeks of the war in Iraq. Five days after Mohammed located US Marines and told them what he knew, Black Hawk helicopters swooped in under cover of darkness, touching down next to the six-storey hospital, and a team of heavily-armed commandos stormed the building. With hand-scrawled maps from Mohammed and his wife, the commandos quickly found the injured Private Jessica Lynch and spirited her away to safety.
Mohammed said he decided to save the 19-year-old soldier because he could not bear to see her beaten in the hospital. “My heart is cut,” he recalled of his reaction when he saw her. “I decided to go to the Americans and tell them about this story.”
Mohammed and his family were flown to this crude desert camp by helicopter yesterday to stay the night before being taken to a refugee centre in the southern port city of Umm Qasr. They were allowed to clean up in a makeshift “shower” fashioned out of a giant cardboard box and then given clothes to wear — an MTV shirt for Mohammed’s wife, Iman, and an oversized military T-shirt for his six-year-old daughter. When Mohammed mentioned that he would love an American flag, the Marines rushed to find one.
“He’s sort of an inspiration to all of us,” said Lt. Col. Rick Long, who hosted the family in his trailer for a dinner of Meals Ready to Eat last night.
If not for his help, the Marines said, they might never have been able to rescue Lynch. “The information was dead-on,” said Col. Bill Durrett, who was helping process their refugee status to keep them safe from reprisals.
Lynch was part of a convoy from the army’s 507th Maintenance Company that made a wrong turn at the city of Nasiriyah on the banks of the Euphrates river on March 23 when it was ambushed by Iraqi paramilitary fighters. The US invasion force was being attacked by Saddam’s fedayeen, a militia formed by President Saddam Hussein’s son Uday.
Several soldiers were killed in the attack, and Lynch returned fire, according to the account given by US officials.
Lynch’s family said yesterday that she was not shot or stabbed, as early intelligence reports had indicated. Five soldiers were captured in the attack, while seven are still listed as missing in action.
In a German hospital, Lynch underwent back surgery yesterday to repair a fracture that was pinching a nerve. She is suffering two broken legs and a broken arm. She spoke by telephone with her parents in West. Virginia. Mohammed, whose last name is being withheld at the request of the Marines, set off the chain of events that led to Lynch’s rescue. Mohammed was born in Najaf, a holy city to Shias like him. He displays an easy smile and is quick to say “welcome.”
He studied law and a little English in Basra in southeastern Iraq and became an attorney. He and his wife did what they could to make a decent life for themselves and their daughter; they had a house and a Russian-made car. But, as Mohammed told it, they longed for the day Saddam would fall.
So when he saw some fedayeen in the hospital, he concluded they were up to no good. He said he knew some of them personally.
Asked about them, he simply shook his head. “Very bad,” he said, switching back and forth from English to Arabic. “Very, very, very, very bad. There’s no kindness in my heart for them.”