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A Stay in America Might Have Saved an Iraqi Official's Life
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By FRANK LITSKY
Published: July 19, 2006
When gunmen stormed a meeting of Iraq's top sports administrators in Baghdad on Saturday, they apparently did not realize that one of the key officials had just returned from the United States, where he had spent three months in an exchange program with the United States Olympic Committee.
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U.S.O.C., via Associated Press
Emad Nasser Hussein, who was wearing a T-shirt when men stormed a meeting in Baghdad, said, "The gunmen just wanted the guys in suits."
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Emad Nasser Hussein, the communications director and spokesman for the Iraqi Olympic Committee, lived in Colorado Springs from April 4 to July 1 and worked with the U.S.O.C. One of the lessons he learned during his time in the United States might have saved him from being abducted, or even killed, on Saturday.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Bob Condron, the director of media services for the U.S.O.C., said: "We learned from each other. I think it was supposed to be a one-way street, but it was a two-way street in learning."
The learning started the day Hussein arrived in Colorado Springs.
After Hussein checked into his room at the Olympic Training Center, the first things he unpacked were three heavy wool suits. Condron told Hussein to put the suits away because people in his office dressed informally.
Condron said that Hussein, who was wounded during the attack on Saturday, called him from the hospital Sunday and said that his second child, another son, had been born that morning.
Hussein told Condron that six of the approximately 30 hostages the gunmen had seized had been set free that day, and that his happiness over his son's birth had been tempered by the kidnapping.
According to Condron, Hussein gave this account of the incident, in which one of the bodyguards for the president of the Iraqi Olympic committee was killed and at least one other official besides Hussein was wounded:
" "˜I said to them, "Who are you?" They hit me over the shoulder with a gun and shot me in the leg. I thought I would bleed to death. I passed out. When I woke up in a hospital, they told me I was alive.
" "˜You may have saved my life. You told me never to wear a suit. I was wearing a red and white T-shirt I bought in California. The gunmen just wanted the guys in suits. I guess they thought I cleaned the place.' "
Condron described Hussein as a youthful-looking 42-year-old who likes to wear cowboy boots and speaks English well enough to learn how American sports officials work and to understand the nuances of every joke. He said Hussein enjoyed the shopping centers (he bought 12 watches), sugar-free ice cream sandwiches, Mexican food and his first hot dogs.
Condron said that Hussein came to the United States as part of a new exchange program run by the International Olympic Committee.
"He wrote press releases," Condron said. "He saw how we teach athletes how to work with the media. He worked with our sports federations."
In a farewell letter to the friends he made in the United States, Hussein wrote: "I learned many things here beside my profession. I learned the love and the worth of the life as a human being that we never feel in the Sadam regime."
Condron emphasized that Hussein was more than a tourist.
"He had a vision for his home country that he was planning," Condron said. "In his mind, he saw a training center for Iraqi athletes. He said, "˜We could teach the youngsters about the world, about life.'
"When he left for home, it was emotional for everybody. He became one of us. We became one of him."