Voice from the Commonwealth Commentary, World Views and Occasional Rants from a small 'l' libertarian in Massachussetts
"If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest for freedom, go home and leave us in peace. We seek not your council nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen." - Samuel Adams
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Halfway between Baghdad and the Iranian border, amid thousands of acres of rice fields, is a small village where a statue of Saddam Hussein was recently toppled and the residents are enjoying their first weeks of freedom.
On a dirt road 50 feet from a babbling stream is a two-story house where a picture of a young Iraqi soldier - missing for nearly a decade - hangs proudly above the television set.
Saturday afternoon, the soldier returned to the village of his birth with a new label affixed to his camouflage - U.S. Marine.
"This is the best day of my life," said Mohammed-Nehmai Arkawazi as he stood among his mother, three brothers, sister and scores of friends for the first time since 1994.
That is when he fled Iraq after repeated imprisonments and torture. His crime: speaking out against Saddam's regime.
Arkawazi, 39, was born and reared in Iraq and, like most young Iraqis, served involuntarily in the Iraqi army. He fought in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s but left the war disillusioned with his country.
After the 1991 Persian Gulf War, during which Iraqi forces were pushed out of Kuwait by an American-led coalition, Arkawazi spoke out against a government he saw as ultimately self-defeating and corrupt. For his perceived sedition he was imprisoned six times and tortured more times than he can remember.
"Life was not easy," Arkawazi said. "Everyone was scared to speak, but I could not be silenced."
So he bid his family and friends farewell and left for Syria. From there he moved on to Lebanon and Cyprus, and finally settled in the United States.
Col. John Pomfret, who coordinated Saturday's reunion, said Arkawazi and his fellow FIFs were integral to the swift coalition victory.
"When we took civilian casualties, he was there talking to them and telling them help was on the way," Pomfret said. "In some places, he helped start electricity and water."
Saturday afternoon, after a two-hour drive from Baghdad, Arkawazi received a hero's welcome. His mother trembled in joy, and his best friend wept as the two hugged.
Neighbors and friends flooded Arkawazi's home, and soon more than 50 people were buzzing about the house, porch and front yard.
"When I left, everyone was small and now they are so big," Arkawazi said. "I am just too happy."
A neighbor who spoke near-perfect English took the opportunity to talk about her country's condition.
"We were suffering for such a long time," said Rabab Ali.
Ali expressed satisfaction at the regime's collapse at the hands of the American-led coalition.
"We are grateful to George Bush and Tony Blair because they are peacemakers," Ali said. "If I had the money, I would build a statue of George Bush because he saved us all."
After Ali's comments, a white tablecloth was spread across the concrete floor and plates full of bright red tomatoes, dark green cucumbers and fresh fire-roasted lamb and boiled chicken were served along with flat oven-cooked bread.
Ice-cold bottles of orange soda washed down a feast for the roughly 30 people, including about a dozen Marines who were treated like family.
"Whenever the Marines of America ask, I will be there to help," Arkawazi said with a wide smile as he rode back toward Baghdad and his responsibilities with the Marines.
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