Saturday, January 20, 2007

NY Times: "Ambush Kills an American Teaching Democracy to Iraqis"

I'm deeply saddened this evening to learn of the deaths of not just one but four persons affiliated with the National Democratic Institute, in an ambush in Baghdad on Wednesday. Ironically, they were gunned down after teaching a class in elemental principles of democracy to Iraqi political leaders—the very sort of work everyone hopes will help bind up the country's deep wounds.

The tragedy is especially poignant for me personally, inasmuch as my daughter Lauren served in Baghdad until only a few weeks ago, in a capacity not unlike the victims'—living and working outside the so-called Green Zone and attempting to help Iraqis put their battered country back together again. Thank God she is now safely returned home.

One of Lauren's friends in Baghdad who knew three of the victims personally forwarded to her a moving tribute composed in their honor:


A question is always raised in such an occasion as how to best commemorate the memory of our fallen or departed. (I have never met Andrea so I cannot touch on this topic.)

Due to the war in Croatia there is a well defined military protocol for just such an incident. I do not believe these protocols would correctly reflect on the lives of Rassim, Janos and likewise for Zeljko. We live on a day to day basis and I believe the following verse would better reflect their lives.

Croatian soldiers before their deployment would often sing together sorrowful songs which would bond them together in a spirit of hope. They knew quite well that shortly on their missions they may face peril. These songs are now rarely sung as they slowly remitted once the war had ended; as a result I never learnt these songs except for one verse which rings in my mind. These songs where sung as prayers before such deployments and Zeljko knew these songs. The verse which as I can recall that Zeljko had sung before was as such:

“my life was short and passed as a dream,
and if I could wish for but one thing,
I would wish that I could live for but one more day”

When I remember my following three comrades, colleagues, and companions of mine I am filled with fond and happy memories of all of them. It still hasn’t dawned on me that I will never see these friends again. I am sure that shortly this reality will be indomitable. It was only upon reading about Zeljko’s death in Croatian script that my stomach churned and brought home the sadness and reality of losing Zeljko and my other two friends.

The best way by which we can commemorate such friends is by keeping our memories of them alive. For those who have met Janos, Rassim and Zeljko before I wish that you may keep your memories of them as they where.

For those that did not know the fallen I testify:

Janos I knew the least as I only meet him for a period of a few months. It took me at least one rotation to distinguish between Jan and Janos as they both did not drink and where very rarely seen in the Bunker. Janos was rotated into our team after coming off Venue Security. He was a very quite and pleasant person who had difficulty in communicating in English but tried immensely. There was talk of having Janos dismissed due to his lack of English. Ivo had faith in Janos and took him into to his team as the SAP car commander. When Wessie was traveling with this team he did not recognise the voice over the SAP radio and upon enquire was quite shocked and impressed to hear how well Janos had progressed in ‘command and signals’ English usage. I have had the pleasure to work with Janos on several occasions.

Rassim was like a friendly elder brother to me. A man who I always treated as an equal and always showed respect to his seniority. He spent twenty years in Saddam’s army and worked in the Iraqi consulate for three years in Belgrade the result of which he could speak Serbian. He and I would joke continuously on the issues of the world in hybrid languages which no one could understand except the two of us. We have always worked closely together and I have always taken on his advice. I have never raised my voice at him as there has never been fault to do so. Rassim has taught me many valuable lessons of life and human nature. We have shared personal discussions on family matters and other intimate topics. I will miss his counsel. He leaves behind a widow and two sons. His brother a mechanic was also unfortunately brutally executed.

Zeljko I first met in the army as an instructor. Zeljko was respected amongst the candidates as he was considered to be a decent human being committed to always improving the present state. My impression of Zeljko was that he did not want to waste any ones time. In the future we would end up in the same unit of the air troop, in the same squad. Zeljko was disappointed in the military and discharged and tried his hand at de-mining in Croatia. As this job was full of internal problems he also left this calling instead to provide security in Iraq. Zeljko and I arrived on the same plane inbound for Iraq. We eventually ended up in the same team where I learnt from him and respected his opinions and views on low profile tactics. We would often discuss in detail the innumerable possibilities during convoys. We would never be in disagreement, argue or conflict. We have never been on ill terms and he is a person who I could openly confide in. Zeljko had his own unique sense of humor which can never be misinterpreted as sarcastic or disdainful but rather realisitic. He has contributed much to the Cedar team and was an admirable team leader.

The team that got hit was my former team and I will miss the departed all dearly as will others. As I did not know Andrea this does not make her passing any easier and I am sure that she will be appropriately commemorated.

Least we forget!

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