HE CAN NEVER REALLY LEAVE IRAQ BEHIND

Dr. Gazi George lives here, in Michigan. You might run into him at the supermarket or the shopping mall. He might be standing around when you and your friends discuss the war in Iraq.

But he would have his own thoughts.

He would be thinking about the time outside Baghdad, 22 years ago, when he was led down a tunnel by two burly guards. He would be thinking how those two guards suddenly went pale. “You go,” they said. “We don’t want to be infected.”

He would be thinking about the steel door he opened, and the long table inside, and the blood stains on the tablecloth. He would be thinking about the syringes and needles, and how his radiation meter began jumping like an excited poodle — and he was still 25 feet away.

“The syringes and needles were filled with isotopes,” he recalls.
“Contaminants. Radiation poison. They were injecting people with this stuff.”

He would be thinking about another room, behind the first, where he discovered cages, not fit for animals, soiled by vomit and human excrement. Pointed at each cage was a metallic tube labeled “Cobalt 60,” the type doctors direct at cancer patents for radiation treatments.

“When doctors do it, it’s in seconds or minutes,” George says. “These were probably left on overnight, pointed at the prisoners, to burn them and give them cancer.”

He would be thinking about that moment, when he says he witnessed the lengths his leader, Saddam Hussein, would go to in torturing his enemies. George decided, that day, that he had to leave.

An escape to the West

It wasn’t easy. George was a high-ranking scientist with the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission. He says he witnessed many things that would be considered, shall we say, damaging if discovered by the West — such as Hussein’s constant shuffling of his nuclear equipment. Or the time when inspectors came to check on the damage from an Israeli attack. George was ordered to simulate a nuclear spill near a bombed Iraqi reactor, to make it seem as if the Israelis had gotten it all — when in fact, much of the uranium had been hidden in a swimming pool a few miles away.

Incidents like that convinced him to leave. He got his sister — like him, a doctor — to send a note saying he had cancer and needed special treatment outside of Iraq. It worked. He left. He has not been back since.

Which doesn’t mean the specter of Hussein has left him. Gazi George has, in effect, been on the lam for 20 years. He moved around. He laid low. For a while, he lived in London, where there was reportedly an attempt to kidnap his children. “If they captured them,” he says, “they would ship them to Iraq and force me to go back there.”

And then?

“I’d either be dead, or treated like a dog.”

Weapons of mass destruction

Until now, George has mostly kept quiet about his years in Iraq. Even here, in America, he feels the long shadow of Hussein. “He’s been chasing me for 20 years,” he says.

George says he believes Hussein has plenty of weapons of mass destruction — although he thinks they are now hidden in Syria. He also believes in time, Hussein would have used whatever nuclear weapons he could have developed.

George, 52, who lives in Oakland Township, has come forward now because he wants people to know the truth. “I am one of 20 million stories from Iraq,” he says. “There are 20 million reasons to get rid of Saddam. I want to tell the world that what America is doing is the right thing. I want to thank them.”

We tend to think of Iraqis as “those people over there.” But Gazi George is here. Living among us. He is a bridge between two worlds. And maybe one day he’ll feel safe enough to go back to his own country. For now, he is driving on the same highway as you, shopping in the same stores, and hoping, as much as any American, that we achieve victory in Iraq. Sometimes, “those people over there” are closer than you think.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com.

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