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The Hanoudi Letter

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Forward by Eric C. Schwartz [Col. US Army]


Friendships are like stars,

They come and go,

But the ones that remain,

Are the ones that glow.

Unknown Author

WAR is the unfortunate result of failed diplomacy. In the sullen background of war are the families caught in the cross fire of violence. They are unprotected. as battles rage throughout their neighborhoods, they become displaced and quickly forgotten, their lives are forever changed and their stories are rarely told. They are the victims in situations that are beyond their control.

ON the 9th of April 2003 the Baathist regime in Iraq collapsed and Saddam has fled his the war was a very short operation, it lasted twenty days, late on the 10th I was told that there was a huge amounts of weapons and other military hardware in one of the houses in the Mansour district in Baghdad , so we went there next morning and started removing it, I was told by the officer who was in charge of the operation that the man who was living next door to were the threatening stuff was kept had come to him [to my officer] and told him that a man in an Iraqi police attire had burst into his house during the day without

asking and shouting in a very bad language and  very obscenely very red faced accompanied by a  very strange  looking old man threatening and demanding to have the keys to the place because he was going to establish his headquarters there he said, he was the new police chief of Baghdad.

NEXT day I was standing at the outer door of the neighbor with three officers from my staff when a tall but evidently quite old man approached and I told him that the soldiers who were removing the lethal stuff from next door were under my command and that I came to apologize for yesterday’s behavior of the Iraqi police officer and we would like to talk to him for few minutes. The man was completely surprised but invited us in excellent English to enter, we learned most welcome and that he was greatly honored by our visit, we went in and sat with him on his front porch, I told him that I was a tea man , I love a cup of tea and we all had an excellent one, we sat at a small table in front of a broken window and we talked.

He told me that his name was Najeeb Hanoudi, he is an eye surgeon and that he had graduated from the medical school in Baghdad in 1957, he had a high a degree in ophthalmology from London University since the mid-sixties.. We stayed for more than few minutes and talked about and religion, politics but he couldn’t stop telling about his dream of reconstruction of his country after the devastation it had suffered under Saddam and his murderous dictatorship mad and his, we left on a first name basis, we were already very good friends . we went back to visit him again few days later, were welcomed very warmly and had more tea.

15 April 2003

Baghdad remains a city in utter chaos as common people swarm over ministry buildings in what appears to be revenge and destruction .office furniture, files and building materials are removed from government facilities and dragged throughout the city.

THE city is in an uncontrollable state of panic. The city implodes as millions of Iraqis take to the streets in an effort to exercise revenge for years of oppression. American tanks are sparsely positioned in vulnerable positions. Troops are exposed to thousands of civilians who are excited about their recent freedom. These same people simply want one of life’s basic needs, security. Standing on the top of a tank I am surrounded by celebrating Iraqis , people appear in the windows as if to say “what’s  is next?”, we are staring at each other, I can see the anticipation on their faces as they watch their neighborhoods fall further and further into lawlessness. As hours and days pass, it becomes evident to the Iraqi people that the American forces do not have the capacity, capability or intent to replace civil unrest with a basic rule of law, this only exacerbates the situation. They remain patient but widespread lootings drags on for days and in the midst of that disorder gangs take shape and the destructive nature of the lootings increases, but the focus of the violence however, remains on the former Iraqi regime, unable to influence the situation American forces pull back into a tightly controlled perimeter. The major golden hours that followed the end of major combat operations are quickly slipping away, it was clear that the situation that we found ourselves in was well beyond anything that we planned for.

WE trained in remote desert locations in Kuwait 7 months prior to the invasion for a lengthy attack that would culminate on the outskirts of Baghdad.

For planning purposes we assumed that we would not enter Baghdad until the security situation in the capital city was well under control. This flawed planning assumption was negated on April 5 when we struck into the center of the city with a small armored force, we would return to the center of the city on April 7 and remain there for the next 9 years, and clearly this wasn’t anticipated.

WITH the push to Baghdad and the fall of the regime complete, senior military leaders developed a daily strategy aimed at securing strategically important ministry buildings, locating senior Baathist leaders, and performing presence patrols in the neighborhoods.

NIGHT time was spent executing particularly sensitive missions and providing security for important meetings; we on the ground were never privy to the agendas of these meetings or knew who was in attendance.

NON- STANDARD operations was the common term used to indicate that we were always one step behind a complex situation of instability, each day brought a new set of challenges that were more complex than the day before, the unimaginable became the norm and nothing became a surprise . On one particular morning we received a detailed set of instructions to locate a downed pilot from the 1991 gulf war, Captain Scott Speicher who was shot down flying a combat mission over west-central Baghdad on January 17 , 1991 during operation desert storm. The recovery mission instructions indicated that he may be held in a police station in the residential area of Mansour in Baghdadi, and within hours the desert rogues descended on the site with combat vehicles and Soldiers. Armored vehicles raced through the narrow streets searching for a citadel like structure that may have held Captain Speicher, instead of finding a government facility, our soldiers located a residential home that lacked any resemblance to a police station and one by one they entered the home to discover that it was a facility by that was used by the former regime to hold prisoners. The home contained thousands of records of prisoners; each file consisted of a photograph and a multi-page write up of each prisoner’s offences. A tight corridor led back to a series of dark cells that contained the markings of prisoners, Etchings were scrawled on the walls and a trough at the base of each wall was still fresh with human waste, bloody handprints stained the walls in a courtyard and a rope could still be seen hanging from a bar on the outside of one cell. The scene at the police station was horrific.

TALKING to our new friend was like turning on a light switch, he is inspiring, his thoughts are well formed and he speaks with authority. He is a master educator, he didn’t know it at the time but he was teaching us how to live, work and survive in our totally new environment.

DURING our second visit we talked for more than an hour and the more we talked the more I knew that we were unprepared for the tasks that lay ahead of us. One day I asked him if I could visit him again and he said, it will be my pleasure dear sir. During one of our visits to his house I discussed with him some of our stability plans and he always challenged our strategies, his ideas and comments went against conventional western wisdom, and he helped us understand Islam and the Arab culture. And I was soon myself questioning our plans and applying his. Our actions in and around Baghdad were quickly influenced by his comments, I was convinced that this man has a good heart and that he was prepared to take risks and make sacrifices to improve things in his country, but I don’t think that he could have imagined the enormity of the price he would pay for his dreams about the future of his motherland.

VISITING Najeeb was becoming very important to us, it was becoming a routine and before every critical mission we returned to his house and await his comments , if our strategies and plans were deficient in a cultural context ,he was quick to point out the gaps in them and always when he thought that our plans were poorly focused or misguided he would look at me and say ,” my dear sir may I suggest…..”, and it was at that point that I would pay full attention to him. His guidance and direction was always focused in ways that maximized the opportunity for success and minimized the risks to our soldiers.

SOON after our friendship was established Najeeb introduced us to his family. This added a new dimension to our partnership. His wife Firyal is a kind and a very nice woman and a very good mother in her late fifties, very hospitable and an excellent cook, we always enjoyed her sandwiches and on our first Easter in Iraq she invited us to a fantastic meal which included an Italian dish, one of my officers who was of an Italian ancestry said; I have never had such a good Italian food in Italy.

HIS eldest son Nazar was a brilliant young man with an engineer’s mind, had a deep dark eyes of a movie star and his love for his family was clear from the beginning and he was helping us with our problems with the deficient electricity and the other services we needed, he earned the trust of the soldiers very quickly and was allowed to move freely throughout the internal perimeter of the green zone his help was making a difference, he was a special person and we treasured our relationship with him as much as our’s with his father.

NAJEEB’s only daughter lived in the central district of Baghdad with her beautiful small family her husband Faris and her son Aboudi. She is a warm loving person with a gentle sprit and a kind heart. She is very smart and her creative talents are amazing, she welcomed us into her home and taught us a great deal about unconditional love, hospitality and patience.

THE story of the Hanoudi family is a tragic story of hope, courage and loss. Najeeb and his family would pay a horrendous price for his honest efforts in assisting us while we fumbled around with poorly developed strategies. His son Nazar would be tragically killed by an American soldier.  Najeeb and his family would lose all their worldly possessions; he would lose his native country and never return.

No man should bear the weight of such a burden and such a tragedy. America owes a debt of gratitude to Najeeb Hanoudi and his family for the bold decisions they made to step forward and make a difference to the future of their country and the world.