For Seven Iraqis, A Vital Part of Life Is Restored
Tale of Amputation Under Hussein Stirs Compassion
By Vince Bzdek
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 24, 2004; Page A01
HOUSTON -- Nine years ago in Abu Ghraib prison, on the night before doctors were to cut off his right hand, Nazaar Joudi wrote a letter to his wife. It was the final act he was to perform with the hand, which was to be methodically removed on Saddam Hussein's orders as punishment for the crime of doing business in American dollars.
"Do not be sad," Joudi wrote to Um Fuqaan that night. "Hopefully Allah will replace my hand with an even better one. . . . God will reward you for standing next to your husband and being my right hand."
Thanks to a Fairfax-based film producer, a half-dozen health care providers and businesses in Houston, and a legendary "white knight in blue spectacles," Joudi's promise to his wife came true last Monday.
Doctors and prosthetists moved by the plight of Joudi and six other Iraqi merchants whose right hands were amputated at Abu Ghraib finished fitting each of the men with $50,000 "bionic" hands. Black tattoos of crosses that had been carved into the men's foreheads to label them criminals were removed by a Houston plastic surgeon a few weeks earlier. All the services and products were donated.
As resentment of Americans in Iraq seems to swell each day, these seven Iraqis are unabashed in their gratitude, not just for their new hands, but for the U.S. role in ending what they call the "reign of horror" that claimed the lives of as many as 2.5 million of their countrymen.
"Tell the American people what all Iraqis want to tell to them," Salah Zinad said. "Tell them: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you."
The other six Iraqis were equally effusive, their appreciation undimmed by the current prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib, outside Baghdad, and other occupation worries back home.
"We have freedom in Iraq. Now we say anything we want," Zinad said. "Under Saddam we whispered."
In recent interviews, the seven Iraqis were unflagging in their confidence about Iraq's future and the U.S. role in it.
Zinad on the prisoner abuse: "Some American soldiers are a problem. Not all Americans. These Americans who did this will be punished. Under Saddam, such abuses were rewarded and praised. Iraqis understand the difference."
Qasim Kadhim on Americans who think the invasion of Iraq was a mistake: "I think those people have made a mistake, because under Allah, all people are brothers. We must help each other if we have a problem. . . . How do we do it if nobody helps us?"
Basim Al Fadhly on why many Iraqis are angry: "They have good reasons to be angry. There have been many mistakes because of cultural differences. Iraq is not a country like America yet. We were 35 years under Saddam. But that does not mean Iraqis don't want democracy. People like freedom, but with freedom you need life."
The seven have become celebrities in Houston as they learn how to use their artificial limbs and soak up a bit of Texas hospitality when not at the hospital. They've watched an Astros game in the owner's box, donned cowboy duds for a barbecue at the historic Y.O. Ranch, even spent a night at the dog track.
This week, they make a pilgrimage to Washington to employ their new limbs shaking the hands of more Americans they want to thank, including soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center who have undergone amputations. They also plan to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company