Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Hanan, a 22-year-old Iraqi translator, defied terrorist threats to work in the U.S.-controlled Baghdad area know as the green zone. She ignored the threats. Then she disappeared.

A few days later, a video was sent to her family showing the terrified woman seconds before her death. She lay on her back and screamed as a sharp knife slit her throat and then cut off her head.

Like many others in Iraq today, Hanan paid the price for standing up to terrorist warnings not to cooperate with Americans who are trying to help rebuild the country while stamping out a brutal insurgency. Her last name, like others in this story, has been withheld to protect her family.

Alaa Maky, deputy chief of Iraq’s Islamic Party, which has been threatened repeatedly by the al Qaeda terrorist organization, also has defied warnings. After his best friend and party colleague, Ayad al-Azy, was assassinated for leading political rallies, Mr. Maky took up the torch.

He was handed a written al Qaeda death threat while at the podium in the run-up to the December national elections. “I don’t fear them,” he said defiantly, sitting at a Baghdad hotel, folding up the paper and tucking it into his suit pocket.

The sacrifices like these of thousands of ordinary Iraqis often go unnoticed by U.S. and coalition troops, who are busy dealing with lethal attacks on their own colleagues.

“Why don’t they stand up to the plate?” asked one Marine stationed in the violent city of Ramadi, wondering why no civilian revolt has been raised against the well-armed and brutal insurgents and terrorists in Iraq.

The same question is asked by many expatriates — most of whom live in heavily fortified compounds with armed guards and travel in armored cars or helicopters, and are evacuated rapidly in medical emergencies.

The answer, said Jamal Abed Nasr of Ramadi, is “because people are afraid, like me. I only have a small pistol. If 100 insurgents come to threaten me, I have no way to protect myself.”

“Previously, we had a very strong police force. Then the resistance started … killing them one after the other, and people now are scared,” said Mr. Nasr, spokesman for the Anbar province security council.

But young Iraqi men, and some women, still line up for jobs — whether for badly needed salaries or to fight for their country, it is hard to tell — in open defiance of terrorists, criminals and rampant sectarian violence.

Ahmed is a 22-year-old policeman who followed in his father’s footsteps. His father, a poor and proud man, had been a police officer for 30 years under Saddam Hussein. Within months, Ahmed had been shot twice. Each time, he simply went back to work.

In November, he was shot a third time, in the leg. It was a relatively simple wound. In the States, said an American trauma doctor who later saw him, he would have been up and back at work in a matter of weeks.

But Ahmed got shot during the Muslim Eid festival. Public medical care has all but collapsed in Iraq, and the Iraqi doctor did not treat the young police officer until after the holiday. Six days later, the unmistakable odor of gangrene permeated the hospital room.

With an American company footing the bill at a private hospital, Ahmed’s leg was amputated above the knee to save his life. The company then offered to pay for him to be fitted with a prosthesis at one of the best hospitals in Jordan.

For some U.S. military and contract workers, small acts of resistance like those of Mr. Maky, Hanan and Ahmed are not easily visible — and certainly not enough to crush the insurgency.

But for those who have carried home the headless bodies of their children, their limbless sons and their psychologically damaged mothers, it is the most they can do.

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