Happy Birthday, Abeer Qassim Hamza
(Clockwise from top left) Abeer’s ID card, crime scene, ringleader Steven Green, “Abeer” insurgent rocket
Iraq was a rather different place when Abeer Qassim Hamza came into the world 15 years ago this week.
It was a year and a half after the first Gulf War ended with a whimper with the withdrawal of nearly a half million troops from the U.S. and 34 other nations after repulsing Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. But Saddam remained firmly in power as Iraq slid into an era of renewed saber rattling and decay and neglect as U.N. sanctions took hold and U.S. fighter jets patrolled no-fly zones in the north and south of the country.
But these concerns seemed far away in the farmhouse of Qassim Hamza Rashid al-Janabi outside the Sunni village of Mahmoudiyah south of Baghdad. It was there that he and wife Fakhriya proudly bestowed on their firstborn the name Abeer, which means “fragrance of flowers.”
Only one photograph is known to exist of Abeer, a blurry black-and-white image of an adorable little girl on an Iraqi national ID card taken when she was about three years old.
As distant as the first Gulf War may have seemed to Abeer’s parents, the second war was a very different story.
In March 2006, three years after the invasion that toppled Saddamâ€™s regime, a few thousand of the too few 116,000 U.S. troops then in country patrolled and fought in and around Mahmoudiya. The village was on the front line of a guerrilla war in which the Americans never seemed to gain ground and Mahmoudiya was now commonly referred to as one of the three points in the so-called Triangle of Death.
The 1st Battalion of the 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, was bedeviled by the shadowy insurgents. They seldom engaged in face-to-face combat, but there was gunfire and rocket-propelled grenade attacks almost daily and soldiers were dying at the rate of at least one a week. Bravo Company had lost eight men alone and would lose several more in the coming months as a direct result of the heinous actions of one of their own.
The battalion had established a series of checkpoints, including one manned by Bravo Company about 200 yards from Abeer’s house, in an effort to monitor and control insurgent traffic. Now 13Â½ years old, Abeer had to pass through the checkpoint going to and from school.
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