Beheading Victim 'Loved Adventure and Risk'
"He was careless," said Abdul-Karim, an Iraqi operations manager for ASCS/GSCS, a construction and services company based in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates. "We told him so many times: You should not go anywhere without security. He was not listening to this."
One of the people Berg met in Baghdad was Aziz Taee, an Iraqi who studied electrical engineering at Temple University and has lived in the Philadelphia area for most of the past 20 years. Taee is chairman of the Iraqi American Council, a business group based in Annandale that encourages investment in Iraq.
Berg had visited the group's Web site and communicated with Taee by e-mail. When the two men finally met, Taee was impressed enough that he agreed to start a small company with Berg, called Shirikat Abraj Babil, or Babylon Towers Co.
They printed business cards advertising their services in installing, inspecting and repairing telecommunications and utility towers. They rented a small corner office on the second floor of a building in Jamiaa, a neighborhood in western Baghdad.
Taee, 40, said he sometimes worried about his 26-year-old associate, who would wander freely around Baghdad.
"He had a short haircut, like the Marines, and he was well built," Taee said. "Most people thought that he was an Army guy in civilian clothes. He took a lot of risks. He was a guy who loved adventure and risk."
Wearing a large tool belt and using metal grippers and rope, Berg began climbing transmission towers, taking photographs of structural damage that he would later show to prospective clients. The work, which was itself dangerous, took him to hostile areas.
Once, he climbed a tower in Abu Ghraib, an impoverished western suburb of Baghdad infamous as the site of Iraq's largest prison. A local farmer became enraged, thinking that Berg was trying to steal parts of the already damaged structure.
Another time, Berg was briefly detained in the southern city of Diwaniyah by Iraqi police who became suspicious when they noticed an American traveling alone. Berg also was robbed one night in Baghdad near his hotel, Taee said.
Without having found steady work, Berg returned to the United States in February and stayed for about a month. Then he caught a flight from New York to Amman on March 14.
His business prospects had improved. He now hoped to get work helping to build and repair radio and television towers for the Iraqi Media Network, a U.S.-funded organization that is intended to become the country's public broadcasting service. The network, which broadcasts under the channel name al-Iraqiya, had hired a primary contractor and two subcontractors to carry out the work.
Berg met with representatives of Al-Fawares, one of the subcontractors, and showed them his photographs. They were impressed by his level of knowledge. "We nicknamed him 'Nick the Tower Man' because he was familiar with all the towers," said Amer Mardam-Bey, an American project manager for Al-Fawares. "He was a unique individual, in the sense that he appeared to live for climbing towers and knew anything and everything having to deal with towers."
Berg arranged to call Mardam-Bey after he returned from a trip to the northern Iraqi city of Mosul to visit a distant relative. At 6:30 p.m. on March 23, he checked into Room 102 at the $25-a-night Al-Kalaa Hotel, in Mosul's southern Guzlani district.
"He seemed very nice and extremely friendly," said Khalid Mahmoud, a clerk at the hotel. "There was nothing unusual about him." Mahmoud recalled being surprised, however, that Berg had Iranian and Jordanian currency in his pocket, along with Iraqi dinars.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company