Between 2007 and 2008, I got to know a man in South Baghdad whose codename was “Bishop.” This is the short story of his life.
His parents were Kurdish Sunnis. They moved to Baghdad 34 years ago — recently married, excited to make a new life for themselves and create a family. Bishop’s real name is Bashar Akram Ameen; the name given to him when he was born on October 6, 1978, in the Abu Ghraib apartments in Baghdad. Bashar had three sisters and one brother. His schooling included graduating from a Baghdad high school in the class of ’96 and attending the Agriculture College of Baghdad University from 1997 until 2002 when he graduated. America had just set its sights on toppling Saddam.
Shortly after graduating, Bashar began service in the Iraqi Army Reserve, but that lasted only three months, because the U.S. crushed a great part of the Iraqi Army and then officially dissolved the rest. For three months, Bashar was one of those unemployed young men we worried about. He got a job in October 2003, as a bodyguard for an Iraqi judge. His first job didn’t last long because insurgents assassinated the judge. Feeling lost and a bit frightened, Bashar decided to look for a “safer” job, and began interpreting for, as he called it, “the Sally Port Security Company” in al-Mansour, Baghdad. Insurgents in his neighborhood figured out that he was working for an American company, and on February 21, 2006, as he left his job at 6:00 pm, they started shooting at him in his car, “… but I miraculously survived,” Bashar explained to me, “and that was the reason to leave my job at that company.”
His own safety, and therefore that of his loved ones, was in jeopardy, and so, as Bashar recalled, “I quit visiting my family for over four months.” Though he had used caution, his family was forced to flee in order to avoid imminent suffering or death from the insurgents. Bashar explained, “They had killed our neighbor’s son, so their father gave the key of his house to my father to keep the house safe until maybe the situation getting better. Then, on the next day, the same killers of our neighbors came to my father and asked him about the key, so he refused to give it away and he said that he don’t have it and he don’t know anything about it.” The insurgents warned Bashar’s father that they would check the validity of his information, and if it was untrue, “they will teach my father and us a lesson.” His family, doing what they must to survive, reluctantly left their home. Bashar wrote to me, “My father packed some basic stuff and moved from our own house in Ameriya, Baghdad; Iraq.”
By now, the civil war was raging in Baghdad.
Not everything was so bleak. Even at the height of the civil war, life went on. Bashar met a woman named Alyaa, who worked in legal administration at the “Sally Port Security Company.” They courted for a year, and got married on September 14, 2006 — all the while, sectarian violence raged around Iraq. A year later their first son, Mustafa, was born. Around that time, however, the local Shia militia (called Jaish al-Mahdi, or JAM) figured out that Bashar, who is Sunni, had worked for the Americans at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Falcon (where he got the codename “Bishop”). “They began coming around to bother my wife while I was at work,” he recalls. “So we moved again to live in al-Mansour, Baghdad. And since then, I stopped making any type of relationships with the neighbors just because you can’t trust anybody. In al-Mansour, we had very quiet time …”
And so Bashar began working for the American Army as an interpreter, for various units, at the time of peak fighting. I first met Bishop when he worked for 1-4 Cav in South Baghdad. The 1-4 Cav soldiers kept Bishop busy, working him hard, and he became one of the team. As the months rolled by and I came back to 1-4 on several occasions, their area had become quieter and quieter until, really, there was nothing going on except progress. The younger infantrymen were proud of the progress, but wanted to get up to Mosul or out to Afghanistan, where the fighting was. But not Bishop. He’d seen the worst of it and did not want to see any more war. He was old beyond his years and wanted peace.