From death threats to democracy
May 20, 2010
- SPC Mohamad Abdulmaboud is in his fifth week of basic training with D Company, 3rd Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment.
- Abdulmaboud began working as an interpreter for the U.S. after the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
- This week Abdulmaboud celebrated the one-year anniversary of the beginning of his new life on U.S. soil.
SPC Mohamad Abdulmaboud has given up a lot for his country but the Iraqi native said he has no regrets about where life has taken him.
Abdulmaboud is in his fifth week of basic training with D Company, 3rd Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment, on Sand Hill.
Abdulmaboud said his love of American culture and ideals of democracy - a sharp contrast to Saddam Hussein's corrupt regime and the devastation caused by trade embargoes - ultimately drove him out of his country.
"When I was growing up, I had a lot of admiration for the United States, which led me to learn English," Abdulmaboud said. "I was also holding a lot of grudges against (Saddam's) regime."
The regime didn't execute anyone he knew, Abdulmaboud said, but their actions during the United Nations-imposed trade sanctions from 1990 to 2003 spoke volumes about the favoritism and corruption within Iraq's government.
"I really hate what Saddam did to my country," he said. ... I remember (Unite For Children) releasing an estimate during the peak of the embargo that said almost 500,000 Iraqi children below the age of 5 had died because of a lack of basic needs like medication - some died simply because no one could find a clean syringe."
UNICEF's survey, "Iraq shows humanitarian emergency," published in August 1999, reported that children under 5 were dying at more than twice the rate they were 10 years prior.
"At the same time, every April 28 - the birthday of the president - every television channel aired his fancy, luxurious birthday party and you had to sit and watch it," Abdulmaboud said.
The invasion of Iraq in 2003 ignited Abdulmaboud's desire to help his country get back on track. Within days
of the invasion, Abdulmaboud and his younger brother, Tony, whose name has been changed in this article to protect his identity, began working as interpreters for the U.S. - first with the 11th Engineer Battalion and later with the 16th Engineer Battalion. The job was dangerous but the brothers felt honored to help their people communicate with Soldiers, he said.
"The day we decided to become interpreters we'd seen a group of Iraqi shopkeepers trying to ask a squad of U.S. Soldiers for protection against looters," Abdulmaboud said. "They were using a lot of hand signals and body language to communicate and it wasn't going anywhere - that's when we stepped in to help.
"When you are able to break such a barrier between two people - between Michael and Ahmed - you can also break down stereotypes. Saddam tried to brainwash the Iraqi people against the U.S. as much as he could.
And a lot of Soldiers came to Iraq with - I wouldn't say wrong ideas - but not very accurate ideas about Iraq and the culture in general. To have them shake each other's hand and smile at the end of a 20-minute conversation gives me hope that one day we will have an appreciation for one another."
After three years of working as an interpreter, in 2006 Abdulmaboud said the situation became too dangerous for him to continue. Abdulmaboud had been living a dual life as an interpreter and a pharmacology student at a local college. He learned that while he and Tony were away working with the U.S., insurgents in their al-Doura neighborhood of southern Baghdad were terrorizing their family - their parents and two younger siblings.
Their home and vehicles had been shot up and vandalized. Abdulmaboud was forced to move the family so often he said he ran out of places to move them to.
"There was no escape, no more different names I could use, no more different cars I could change to - I consumed every effort to stay concealed," he said.
The situation was compounded by the death of his mother from breast cancer.
In October 2006 Abdulmaboud returned to his home to discover a death threat had been posted.
"It said (my brother and I) were the walking dead and we should be counting our days because there's an execution order against us," he recalled.
That same month, SGT Ahmed Altaie, a U.S. Soldier serving as an Iraqi interpreter, was abducted from his
Baghdad home while on a weekend pass to visit his family. Altaie is still missing.
Labeled a traitor by his own countrymen, Abdulmaboud and his family - with the exception of Tony, who chose to remain in Iraq and continue working with U.S. forces - fled Iraq and lived in Egypt as refugees.
The United Nations paved the way for them to come to the U.S., and this week Abdulmaboud celebrated the one-year anniversary of the beginning of his new life on U.S. soil.
Abdulmaboud enlisted in the Army as a chemical operation specialist and was given credit for the bachelor's degree he attained in Iraq. He's in his fifth week of basic training and hopes to reconnect with the Soldiers he served with while in Iraq. His family has adjusted to life in Chicago, where his sister has a job and his brother is pursuing a career in medicine. The family has received green cards and Abdulmaboud is pursuing naturalized citizenship. Abdulmaboud said his brother, Tony, still lives in Iraq with his wife and daughter, as he continues his service with the U.S. Abdulmaboud said he hopes the whole family will eventually be reunited in the U.S.
"When I left my country, I left my house, my car, everything - it was like the great escape," he said. "When I look back at all the hardship I've been through and think 'Was it worth it'' I think about the people I worked with - the engineers and the Infantry - and I say, 'Yes, it was worth it. It was the people I met in the Army that made every decision I made OK.'"