Capt. Ali Hussam Abass Alrubaeye died in his native Iraq, where he battled the insurgency alongside American airmen. He was buried yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery with four of those men, becoming the first Iraqi national interred there.
Abass, 34, was with members of a U.S. Air Force team when their plane crashed May 30 about 80 miles northeast of Baghdad in Diyala province. Their deaths were classified by the Air Force as "non-hostile."
Most of the men's remains were returned to their families for private burials, but officials said some could not be identified. They were interred yesterday in a single-casket group burial.
The Americans honored were Maj. William B. Downs, 40, who lived in Winchester, Va., until his family moved to Shalimar, Fla., in 2001; Capt. Derek M. Argel, 28, of Lompoc, Calif.; Capt. Jeremy J. Fresques, 26, of Clarkdale, Ariz.; and Staff Sgt. Casey J. Crate, 26, of Spanaway, Wash.
Family members, many of whom attended the service, declined to comment.
Lt. Col. Alton Phillips, an adviser with the Coalition Military Assistance Training Team who is aiding the Iraqi air force squadron to which Abass, a pilot, was assigned, said Abass had called his U.S. teammates "brothers in the struggle for freedom" after escaping a tight spot involving a forced landing.
"That's really the way everyone feels," Phillips said in a telephone interview from Iraq. "One team, one fight."
And now, one grave.
Yesterday, Abass joined 62 other foreign nationals who have been interred at Arlington since World War II. The first were British airmen shot down while flying in U.S. aircraft. The most recent was Ilan Ramon, an Israeli who was aboard the space shuttle Columbia when it disintegrated over Texas on Feb. 1, 2003. Unidentified remains from the crew were placed at the base of a memorial.
Arlington Cemetery historian Tom Sherlock said that when some remains can't be separated or identified, bringing them to the cemetery is the "compassionate and right thing to do."
The last group burial including foreign military members was Nov. 8, 2002, when the remains of seven South Vietnamese soldiers were interred in a grave with three American soldiers. The men died in the crash of a U.S. Army helicopter in Laos in 1968. Remains at the crash site were recovered in 1990.
To date, 184 men and women killed in the Iraq war have been buried at Arlington in similar ceremonies.
Yesterday's service included all the hallmarks of a full-honors memorial, with mourners following a horse-drawn caisson to its resting spot along Bradley Drive. But it also had moments that brought the war and the relationships of those fighting in it into sharp focus.
Iraqi Maj. Gen. Kamal Abdul-Sattar Barzanjy flew in from Baghdad to attend the service. During the ceremony, Barzanjy presented crisply folded Iraqi flags to Abass's parents and wife. Abass's father is a retired brigadier general.
Col. Kenneth F. Rodriguez said he had visited with Argel, Fresques and Crate at their base in Afghanistan two months before the crash. Rodriguez is commander of the 720th Special Tactical Group, Air Force Special Operations Command, at Hurlburt Field in Florida, where the airmen were assigned before going overseas.
He said the men performed airfield surveys and looked for potential landing areas, which is what they were doing when their six-seat Aerocomp Comp Air 7SL went down.
Rodriguez said he listened for any reaction from his troops when it was announced that the four men's remains would be placed in a group grave at Arlington. The response, he said, was entirely positive.
"The way they view all five of these warriors is that they're patriots fighting for freedom," Rodriguez said. "They were all in this fight together. Frankly, they consider Captain Abass as a brother-in-arms."
Rodriguez said the men's direct commander in Afghanistan phoned him the morning that a memorial service was held at Hurlburt Field shortly after the crash. He said that it was an emotional day for everyone and that the conversation will never leave him.
"He said, 'Sir, let me tell you this does nothing but strengthen our resolve and our dedication to provide that blanket of freedom our friends and loved ones sleep under every night,' " Rodriguez recalled, his voice full of emotion. " 'We'll continue to fight.' "