NAME: Mohammed Alsalahi
HOMETOWN: Born in Iraq but lives in San Diego
JOB: Works for Iraqi Free Officers and Civilian Movement
EAST OF NASIRIYAH, Iraq—Mohammed Alsalahi stands outside a U.S. Army hospital, trying to translate for a group of Iraqi men who don't speak English.
"His brother died, and they want the body back," Alsalahi tells an Army nurse, who speaks only English.
But the body has already been buried.
"They want to take him and do Islamic procedures for burial," Alsalahi says.
Alsalahi, 36, of San Diego, works with the Iraqi Free Officers and Civilian Movement, a Washington-based Iraqi opposition group. He was born and raised in Nasiriyah, but he left Iraq eight years ago.
He declined to discuss the exact nature of his business in Iraq.
"We are a peace mission," he says. "We are trying to rebuild the relationship between Iraqi people and the United States. It's been destroyed by Saddam and the Baath Party. The main thing is for people to get rid of Saddam and his regime. I am part of this mission. We are here to participate with the Allies to liberate our country."
He wears camouflage military fatigues and a flak jacket and carries a pistol.
"I left Iraq because of Saddam, because of the situation here," he says. "I come back here to liberate our country. We will help rebuild Iraq with our friends in America."
A nurse returns to speak to the Iraqi men about trying to get the body of the dead Iraqi man.
"They use civilians as human shields, and that's how this happens," Alsalahi says. "He was with his brothers and got shot. His brother is now wounded here at the hospital. The other brother died, and they want the body. I know with the Quran, there is a specific way they have to bury the body. They have to read some specific words from the Quran."
Alsalahi is more than a translator. He says he came to this hospital today on other matters that he declines to discuss, and he's just helping out.
"I cannot leave them without helping," Alsalahi says.
Alsalahi has a bachelor's degree in management from a university in Baghdad. He lives in San Diego with his wife and two children. "I'm a student in San Diego," he says.
He's been a member of the Free Officers and Civilian Movement, which was founded in 1996 by an ex-Iraqi military officer, for three years.
"Our goal is to topple Saddam," Alsalahi says. "It's going to happen. It makes me so happy, so happy I cannot describe it. But our feeling goes between happiness and sorrow that some people have accidentally died."
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
ILLUSTRATION (from KRT Illustration Bank, 202-383-6064):