Iraqi lawyer's courage leads Marines to Lynch|
By David J. Lynch, USA TODAY
MARINE COMBAT HEADQUARTERS, Iraq — The daring rescue that freed American POW Jessica Lynch on Tuesday originated with a tip from a genial Iraqi lawyer who couldn't stomach seeing a woman hit. (Related story: Rescued soldier doing well after first surgery
Army Pfc. Lynch, 19, was seized March 23 along with 14 other soldiers when their supply convoy took a wrong turn as it passed the southern Iraqi town of Nasiriyah.
A few days later, the lawyer — who prefers to go just by his first name of Mohammed for now — went to Saddam Hospital in Nasiriyah to see his wife, Iman, who is a nurse. Right away, he noticed an unusual number of security personnel ringing the building. As he passed a first-floor emergency ward, he saw through the window an Iraqi paramilitary man give Lynch two open-handed slaps to the face.
"I saw them hit the female soldier, and my heart stopped," said Mohammed, who does not want his family name disclosed for fear of retribution from the Iraqi paramilitary fighters. "I decided to go to the Americans and tell them the story."
On a battlefield where America's enemies look the same as America's friends, that was no small matter. Mohammed had to walk more than 6 miles out of Nasiriyah, along an open road in an area that Marines have nicknamed "Ambush Alley."
When he reached a checkpoint manned by Marines, with his hands raised in the air, he was greeted with a curt "What do you want?"
"Important information about woman soldier," he replied in the broken English he acquired during studies at Basra Law College.
That piqued the interest of a young Marine shouldering an M-16, who then ushered the Iraqi to see his superior officer. Thanks to his wife, Mohammed, 32, was able to give the Marines the hospital layout, including the vital fact that a helicopter could land on the roof of the six-story building.
The Americans asked Mohammed to return to the hospital and bring back additional details about its layout, security and Lynch's exact location.
Luckily, Mohammed also had a good friend who worked as a doctor at the hospital. With the doctor's help, he made two more trips to the hospital — once when U.S. bombs were raining on the area — and drew five maps for Lynch's rescuers.
On one visit, he saw the body of an American killed in battle and a U.S. military uniform. But asked whether he had seen any other Americans alive, Mohammed replied, "Just Jessica. Only Jessica."
Twelve solders from Lynch's unit, the Army's 507th Maintenance Company, a non-combat unit from Fort Bliss, Texas, are missing or prisoners of war. Two others were killed in the ambush.
When Lynch was rescued, U.S. special operations forces also recovered 11 bodies from the hospital. Nine of them were retrieved from a mass grave and two others from the hospital morgue. Some of bodies are thought to be American, and there were unconfirmed reports Thursday that some of them were from the 507th, although none was identified.
On his first visit, Mohammed slipped into Jessica's room after her captor had left. She was lying in bed, a blanket drawn up to her chin, he said. There was a bandage on her head, and one arm was in a sling. Mohammed said she had gunshot wounds to both legs. Lynch's father, Greg Lynch Sr. of Palestine, W.Va., said Thursday that military doctors told him she was not shot but had two broken legs.
"She think I doctor," Mohammed recalled of his visit to Jessica. "I said, 'Good morning.' She said, 'Good morning, doctor.' I said, 'Don't worry,' and she smiled."
Militant paramilitaries from an outfit called Fedayeen Saddam had moved into the hospital at the outset of the war.
The hard regime loyalists, many drawn from Iraqi prisons, alienated many people in Nasiriyah by shooting anyone who showed warmth toward the U.S. invasion. One woman, who waved to a U.S. helicopter as it passed overhead, was shot and killed. Mohammed said he saw her body dragged through the street.
The day after he approached the Marines, security personnel ransacked his home. Mohammed's wife and 6-year-old daughter, Abir, or "flower," took refuge in his father's house while he spent nights with the Marines.
"I never went back to my house. My friends told me they (the Fedayeen) went into my house and took my car," he said.
Mohammed and his family arrived here at Marine headquarters by helicopter Thursday and became instant celebrities. Marines clustered about them, taking pictures and exchanging small talk. After showering in the Marines' rudimentary camp facilities, the family dressed in borrowed T-shirts, pullovers and slacks and ate a dinner of military Meals Ready to Eat.
Mohammed is headed to Umm Qasr, where his temporary refugee status means he and his family will be cared for. He doesn't know when he will be able to return to Nasiriyah. But he is a big fan of the Marines. Digging into his pocket, he retrieves a unit patch he was given by the helicopter crew who brought him here. "I am very happy, I keep this," Mohammed said, smiling and fingering the patch that read: "We get you home."