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Iraq: A Hero Dies In The Valley Of Death

Helen williams & Wejdy Adeeb | 27.10.2004 12:17 | Anti-militarism | Globalisation

Helen Williams has now left Iraq. She is currently in Amman, Jordan. She spends almost all of her time speaking to the many Iraqis, about their personal tragedies. She hopes to return to Iraq, when possible and continue her work there.
This report is one of her, and Wejdy Adeeb's, personal tragedies. It is about the death of an Iraqi named ghareeb. He was one of the World's, far too few, heroes. He died in August, whilst returning from a Humanitarian mission to the besieged Holy city of Najaf. Because he was an Iraqi, his death was not reported. This event has had a deep and lasting effect on helen and Wejdy.

We first met Ghareeb in April while the Americans were
laying siege to Fallujah. We met him through a trusted
friend and they asked us if we would be willing to
accompany them on a mission to take medical aid into
Fallujah. We agreed to go with them the next day.
We understood from this friend and Ghareeb that they had
made several trips into Fallujah, taking in urgently
needed supplies and bringing out injured people and
women and children. This was at great risk to their
personal safety and well-being. Ghareeb, when we met
him, was shattered, tired and worn out. He had been in
and out of Fallujah constantly doing this vital, brave
work and had barely slept in weeks. He would use his
own car to bring as much relief and to alleviate the
suffering as much as he could for those poor people. He
didn't have to do it, but we could see that he was a man
who felt compelled to help in any way he could. It was
his love of humanity and his concern for oppressed
people that drove him on. We don't know how he stayed
awake, but in Fallujah he even drove the clinic's last
ambulance. He tirelessly drove around the city
collecting the injured from dangerous sniper riddled
streets and picking up the dead from where they had
fallen. He performed this task
all day until the ambulance, already shot at by snipers
in the morning, was rendered undrivable after it came
under attack again from American snipers. Yes, the
Americans had shot at ambulances in Fallujah. When
Ghareeb's ambulance was shot at, nearly killing him and
the others with him in the vehicle, it was his quick
thinking and speedy getaway, although very tired, that
saved them and prevented any of them from being killed
The next day we left the city, bringing out many injured
Souls and taking them to Medical City in Bagdad, where
hopefully some would have a chance of recovery and life.

We did not see Ghareeb again for some time, we had moved
appartments and lost touch. But then, in the summer,
there was a happy reunion when we bumped into him by
chance outside his favourite restaurant. We sat with
him, drank chai and ate food for some five hours until
the early hours of the morning. We had so much to tell
each other. Ghareeb, naturally, had so much more to say.
He had been helping the suffering people of Basra, some
of whom had been gunned down and tortured by British
troops and he had been driving back and fro there doing
more vital work to try to help bring justice for these
people. Indeed, although he had been up late with us, he
was to go there the next day and we saw the same tired
Ghareeb we had first met in April, driven on by his need
to help. He also told us about Zeinab, a young girl who
had lost a leg in Basra. He had been instrumental in
getting her to Britain to receive treatment, even
driving her to Jordan himself, from where she left for
Britain. Zeinab had lost 17 members of her family in
that same raid – the tragedy is hard to take in.
Ghareeb had so many things 'on the go'. He would talk
about doing one thing the next day and end up doing some
other vitally important humanitarian mission. There were
so many urgent things for him to worry about - and who
will do these things now?
After this, Ghareeb became a regular visitor at our
appartment. We saw him almost daily and if we did not
see him, he telephoned us to check we were all right and
safe as the security situation deteriorated in the
country. He was full of ideas and tips on how to stay
safe. He had advice for every situation and every
problem we came up against in our work, which was
helping street children and poor families.
We enjoyed our time with him, often having big laughs as
Ghareeb had a wicked sense of humour. We used to make
fun of each other all the time. We always went on at him
for not being vegan, asking him how such a caring, kind
person could eat animals. He used to say "Look, I'm
Palestinian - we Palestinians must think first about
human rights, not animal rights!" When we explained to
him that veganism was not just about helping animals,
but that it was, in fact, something that helped the
starving millions, especially in Africa, he didn't know
what to say. We teased him all the time and enjoyed
cooking him vegan food, which, despite his best efforts
not to, he thoroughly enjoyed.
It was around this time that he was saying that he
needed a break, a holiday - just a week or two to sleep
and recover. But here was a man, who obviously could not
take a break and relax while he knew there were
suffering people to help. He used to talk of having a
week or a fortnight off, saying that after this trip to
Najaf he would just take some time for himself. And he
used to say how his family wanted him to leave Iraq
because things were getting so bad - they were so
worried about him, so concerned for his safety and about
the risks he took. He never had that well deserved rest.
At one point Helen had typhoid. We did not know what it
was at the time. Ghareeb would turn up nightly with a
different remedy for her to try out. One night she was
in so much pain that he wanted to take her to hospital
there and then. He wanted to be bothered with her
well-being even though it was late and he had been
working hard all day and, even though, he himself was
feeling ill.
Ghareeb was a big man, well over 6 feet tall, and daily
he took many risks to his life helping others. But one
thing bothered him more than all these risks to his own
life - his father!! His father used to worry constantly
about Ghareeb going to dangerous places and taking these
risks. Ghareeb told us how his father once discovered
that he had been to Najaf, even though Ghareeb had not
told him. So Ghareeb was working out ways for his father
not to find out again. In the end he bought another sim
card for his mobile phone so that he could be rung in
the south of Iraq without his father knowing where he
was. He didn't even want his beloved family to know the
risks he was taking or to be worried about him - he
wanted to spare them the stress.

In August the Americans, with their new Iraqi government
Allies pounded the besieged Holy City of Najaf,
Even damaging the Holy Shrines.
When Ghareeb told us we were able to go to Najaf with
him to deliver first aid and medical equipment we were
very happy. He had been there a few days earlier, when
the Italian Red Cross or other powers-that-be had let
him down badly with an aid convoy. He was determined to
get there with the convoy of aid and he, and several
others, had persevered and carried on to the suffering
city, so important was their mission.
Two nights before we left Ghareeb was in great pain
with a very stiff back and neck. We took him food and
fruit - he could barely move his tired, aching body. He
slept on the floor that night and the next day he was up
and about as usual arranging things for the trip to
Najaf the following day. He visited us that evening to
check we were ready and packed and to see that we had
everything that we needed to go. Enzo Baldini, an
Italian, left wing Journalist, who we briefly
Knew through Ghareeb also came with the convoy.
The next morning he picked us up early to go to the
Italian Hospital in Medical City from where we would
leave for Najaf. We set off in our multi-vehicle convoy
of Red Cross vehicles for the long journey south. When
we were hit by RPG/roadside bomb near Lattifya, Ghareeb
was seething with anger at who could do this to us. A
lorry, the ambulance we were travelling in and Ghareeb's
own car we all badly damaged in the attack, but we
continued on our way.
In Najaf, the Americans would not let us pass their
lines with the medical supplies to help the injured and
suffering. We were very upset about this and wondered
what we should do. A kind family let the Italians set up
a makeshift hospital in their living room and this was
done quickly. But it soon became clear that we would be
unable to help very many - the people being injured and
killed in Najaf were the other side of the American line
they could not reach us and we could not get to them.
Ghareeb pondered on this dilemma for some time, there
seemed little point in our remaining there, so we went
to nearby Kufa to see if we could help there. We spent
the day and night there, treated so
well by the Mahdi Army and in the evening opening up a
makeshift clinic in one of the rooms of the mosque.
Ghareeb worked tirelessly all day with medical supplies
and checking that we were all okay and sorted out - he
did not stop. Wejdy translated all day and Helen did
what she could to help the female patients. We don't
feel that we did that much, but at the end of the
evening, Ghareeb gave Helen a little plastic animal
dressed as a nurse, because she had been a 'nurse' all
When we sat down to rest after midnight, Ghareeb told
Helen that he had brought her to Najaf because she had
been in Iraq for almost a year and knew how to behave
and be with Iraqis, having learnt how to understand the
different way of life. I can't tell you how she felt at
this compliment. It was one of the last things we were
to hear Ghareeb say.
Bedtime came, we slept in the mosque until 6.30 am. We
were woken up, just before leaving. Helen rushed off to
wash and did not get to speak to Ghareeb in the hurry to
leave, only seeing him briefly across the mosque
courtyard. Wejdy spoke to him only quickly. It's a
strange thing, but if we had known what was about to
happen, surely we would have made the effort to say
more, to say something that meant more, or to just thank
Ghareeb for his special friendship and for letting us
come to Najaf with him, for trusting us that much. But
we did not know and those words were left unsaid.
The journey back to Bagdad was tense. It was the only
time during the whole trip that we felt scared - the
approach to Lattifya. Then we were hit again. Well, we
weren't, Ghareeb's car was. It disappeared in the dirt
and dust from another huge explosion. We had only seen
him get out at the check points on the way home - we
were never to see him again. Enzo was also in this car
his fate was, if possible, more publicly disgusting
- he was captured and later murdered, live on internet.
We did not know what had happened and the Italian Red
Cross men did not help us or tell us anything that they
knew. We called and called Ghareeb that day and the next
when we were in Bagdad, fearing the worst, but hoping
that he was just injured lying in some hospital
somewhere recovering.
But it was not to be. We lost Ghareeb. Well, we didn't -
the world and Iraq did. And what a loss. So many in
Iraq are now worse off because Ghareeb is not here and
as that beautiful country crumbles further and further
into chaos and strife, Ghareeb is needed more than ever
before. But he is not here and this is hard to bear.
His life and his endless work touched so many. So many
miss him and mourn his passing, so many people needed

Ghareeb's body has not been found. Rumours and
speculation abound as to where he may be. This is
torture for his loving family. If his body was not
found, they cannot bury it. And their worst fear is that
Ghareeb may end up being buried by strangers in some
unmarked grave, and they may never know where he is.
They need to lay Ghareeb to rest next to his daughter –
without this happening their suffering and the turmoil
they feel in their lives will only continue. We cannot
imagine the anguish and desperate sense of loss and pain
they must be experiencing right now.
For us personally, the loss has been sorely felt. We are
heartbroken. For weeks every white car that pulled up
outside our appartment made us think of and hope it was,
somehow, Ghareeb. We hoped for weeks that it was not
true, that he would turn up and come back into our lives
and visit us again for some tea and a chat. But it
wasn't to be and we, like so many others, have to get
used to the loss of our dear friend, however much it
hurts us.

Helen and Wejdy

Helen williams & Wejdy Adeeb