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Trumpeter reflects on a friend killed in Iraq

Hussein Jassem Abdul Ridh with the author's New Hampshire-based band.
Hussein Jassem Abdul Ridh with the author's New Hampshire-based band.

Regular readers of Boston.com might remember me from posts made during a recent trip to Baghdad to play music for our troops. I was one of two trumpeters in a 10-piece New Hampshire-based dance band. We were in Baghdad for a week and established some wonderful friendships.

The sweetest Iraqi man I met there was a custodial worker in the US Embassy named Hussein Jassem Abdul Ridh.

I learned on Friday that a sniper had killed Hussein.

"Hussein embodied hope,'' Major Mike Pacheco, the singer for the band and our liaison to Baghdad, told us by email. Pacheco praised Hussein's zest to live "and to find some level of happiness for his family.''

In the email, Pachecho said Hussein had been in his office the day before his death. "We talked about the band's trip and he said once again as he had said so many times that his experience with us was one of the greatest days of his life,'' Pacheco said. "For giving him a moment of happiness, I am grateful."

I hope these pictures of Hussein will give a sense of his sweetness, joyousness, optimism and charisma. His smile was contagious. I once saw him walking in Baghdad's International Zone and he ran up to me and played air trumpet. We embraced and I attempted to give him my denim jacket, but he refused to accept it. He was more about giving than taking. I remember thinking over and over since I've been back, "God, I hope Hussein makes it through all of this.''

Hussein was from the Taji neighborhood in Baghdad. As the war progressed, he was forced out of the formerly integrated neighborhood by the Shia presence and built a home in the Kadhamiya district of Baghdad.

In Hussein's effervescent, likable presence, you could convince yourself that maybe everything was going to be all right. It was as though you might absorb some of his charm through osmosis and become a more vibrant person.

These are the kind of characteristics that garner loyal, wonderful friends, but in Baghdad, these same characteristics can paint a target on you. In a war that mixes civilian with military, it is safest for a civilian to be unremarkable. Hussein was not that. He could never be unremarkable.

Hussein thought he had figured out a way to bring stability to his family amid all of the chaos that is Baghdad right now. He was such a sweet guy. But I can see how hard it is to stop hatred, because I sure feel it now, and I would take some satisfaction in hearing that some of Major Mike's closest friends found the men who did this.

Chris Elliott is a freelance writer and trumpeter in southern New Hampshire.

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