Three months with Fawzi
One of the unique things about being on my particular MiTT (Military Transition Team) is that I work with some of the top people in Iraq. To me, it is interesting to sit in these meetings with these generals and watch them make decisions that affect how the history books in Iraq will be written.
One of these people is a man by the name of Gen (Ret.) Fawsi al-Ali. He is a US citizen that was hired by the government to provide advice to MiTTs and their Iraqi counter-parts. What makes this man interesting is how he became as US Citizen.
He was one of the top generals in Iraq, working directly for Saddam Hussein. He was in charge of nine divisions with over 250,000 soldiers under his command, and he was in the middle of fighting the Iraq/Iran War (1980-1988). In 1986, he was in India attending their National Defense University when he was called to return to Iraq. It was at that point he knew something wasn’t quite right. So, he talked with his wife and his son and asked them if they wanted to go to the United States. They agreed.
He called back to Iraq and told them he would need a couple of weeks to pack his things and ship them back to Iraq. So, as if he were headed back to Iraq, he packed his goods, bought tickets, and prepared as if he was returning home to see Saddam Hussein.
During this time, he noticed a man watching him every day. The man would only leave to go inside and get lunch. One day, during the observer’s lunch break, he and his family headed for Nepal. With nothing but wads of cash to bribe potential trouble-makers along the way, he and his family made their way to the US Consulate in Nepal, where they requested asylum in the United States. Three days later, President Ronald Reagan personally approved his request.
Fast forward to May 2009. Over the next three months, the relationship between he and I would build. As we moved from Iraqi unit to Iraqi unit, I began to realize just how well known he is. In Iraqi military circles, he is somewhat of a “rock star”. Many of the now Generals and Colonels were students of his, or had been under his command when they were young officers. Everywhere we went he was met with sharp salutes, firm handshakes, and the Arabic hug and kiss on the cheek. Everyone called him “Sadee” (Sir).
He became our direct line to the Iraqi Army. We would present him with our ideas; he would support them if they were worthy, and sell them to our counter-parts. Who would in turn, give orders as if those ideas were their own. It was a great relationship.
Then, as fast as he showed up, he left. The war is winding down, and that means less money and less jobs. No matter what we said, no matter what the results, no matter what American General got involved, he had to go. Sometimes “Big Army” doesn’t realize when they have a good thing, and they just let it go.
Fawzi was a teacher as much as he was a student. He was prolific in his thoughts and listened intently. He is the kind of person that you get to know only once in a lifetime. I enjoyed our conversations, and looked forward to our meetings. I never tired of listening to his life stories, or his advice.
As is customary when parting, we gave each other gifts. We gave him a framed certificate thanking him for his service to us. It wasn’t much, but it was all we had. He gave me a set of prayer beads. Most of the men in Iraq carry them. They remind me of Rosary beads. They will stay in my pocket until I leave Iraq. I look forward to the day that I can tell my kids the story of the Iraqi General, the prayer beads, and the plans to beat the terrorists.
With and handshake, a hug, and a “Good-bye Brothers” he was gone.