*Retold with permission.
Even though I’m really thirsty right now, I can’t drink too much water. My stomach can’t handle it. I can’t eat much either. It’s a complicated story.
From about 2004 to 2007, I was fighting alongside my friends and neighbors in an attempt to keep Al Qaeda out of our area. We weren’t really a militia, but a group of locals just trying to keep our community safe. We’ve seen how they kill people for no reason, even women and children.
According to Al Qaeda, the Prophet didn’t cut his hair, so they kill all the barbers. The Prophet didn’t drink cold water, so they kill the guys who distribute ice. Even the people who make mattresses or pillows. The Prophet didn’t have those comforts, so they kill them too. Same with smokers, real estate agents, people who wear shorts, and so on. I don’t understand how they do it because it’s not what the Koran teaches. In fact, the word “Islam” itself means “peace.” We’re taught to respect and accept all people. We’re supposed to pray for unbelievers, not kill everybody who believes differently than us.
Al Qaeda would kill the innocent and hide the bodies everywhere. They’re like cavemen. They’d murder somebody, scrape out a shallow grave, and throw in the corpse. Often they’ll cover them with a little dirt, pour oil or diesel over the whole area to keep down the odor, and then sprinkle some dust over it to hide the evidence. Other times they hide bodies in walls and cement over them. I know they kill women and children because we’ve dug up some of these graves before and found murdered women still holding their babies. They were butchers, and we hated them.
But we hardly had enough bullets to defend ourselves, much less our whole community. Al Quaeda would attack with a hundred and we’d hold them off, but then they’d come back with maybe four hundred. We lost a lot of people. All I did was fight – nearly every day – for almost three years. We fought cowards; men who murder the innocent and run away. This whole country had plenty of them.
When I was home once, an old friend called me and asked if I wanted to stop by. I said I would and drove over. But when I walked up to him, he shot me, point blank. Somehow, even though I’d kept it a secret, he’d found out that I was fighting for Al Qeada. And he, also in secret, had been working for Al Qaeda. When they learned who I worked for, they told him to kill me. In an instant, he betrayed twelve years of friendship.
He emptied the 9mm clip into me. Of the fifteen rounds, fourteen of them hit me. The first hit in me in my elbow and the next few in my chest near my heart. Somehow I stayed standing for those, but when the next one lodged in my stomach, I collapsed. As the others fighters yelled “finish him,” he fired the rest of the magazine into me and ran away. I can’t describe the pain to you. It was worse than anything I’ve ever experienced.
A number of people walked up and stared at me lying on the ground bleeding, but nobody helped. I begged them to, but they were all too afraid to actually aid me. They were afraid that the fighters would come back. Eventually, I resorted to bargaining with them. I asked them to at least call my family so they could come get me out of the street. If they didn’t, the dogs would eat my body. I deserved to be buried, I told them. Finally, after two hours of bleeding on the side of the road, they called. By the time my family came to get me, I was nearly dead.
My parents rushed me to the hospital, but when they discovered how low my blood pressure was, they refused to take me into emergency surgery. The anesthesia would make my heart stop completely, they said. For two more hours, I waited in agony. Eventually they figured I wasn’t going to die and took me in to operate.
Four hours into the surgery, my heart stopped and I remember seeing a white light. Then I remember being jerked awake; maybe by the paddles. Not just back to life, but awake, IN surgery. I was still completely paralyzed, but I could move my eyes. Looking down my body, I could see my stomach held open and the surgeon working on me. I wanted to scream at them. I wanted to scream in pain, but I couldn’t. They knew I was awake, but they couldn’t give me any more anesthetics. My heart might stop again. After seven hours of surgery, I was moved to recovery. The doctor was amazed I lived at all. He said it was a miracle.
It was six months before I could walk, and another two before I could move my arm. The bullet had severed some of the nerves. Even now I only have limited use of it. At first, even blowing on my hand caused excruciating pain, so I had to wear a glove. More than a year later, I still don’t feel pain when I put it in boiling water. It feels cool for some reason.
This was all about the time my father died, too. He’d been alternately weak and ill for quite some time, but my almost getting murdered put him over the edge. Before he died, he told me that the best way to get back at them was to fight with the Americans, and he was right. I did what was right by him and by myself. Soon after his death, I reported as much as I could to the Iraqi army and police, watched them arrest my former friend and many others, and then went to work as a translator for the US. Since then, I’ve been all over here and Baghdad trying to turn in more of them.
The surgeon who saved my life has been killed now, too, but by Jaish Al Mahdi – which is probably worse than Al Qaeda. While Al Qaeda mostly killed just Shiites, JSM killed everybody. If they didn’t know you, you were dead. My surgeon, who saved my life and the lives of many others, ultimately couldn’t save himself.
And now, most of my friends are either dead from Al Qeada or Jaish Al Mahdi, or working for them. My father is dead, Al Qaeda bombed my house, I’ve lost all my possessions, and there’s a $20,000 reward for my head in my hometown. I’m a man with nothing to lose. I’ll work for the Americans as long as I can, turn in as many bad guys as I possibly can, and then, as the US leaves and this country descends into civil war, I’ll leave with them. There’s nothing left for me here now. Nothing but fear, violence, and eventually death. These people aren’t ready for freedom. They don’t know what to do with it.
Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved