AL ASAD, Iraq -- When the American led coalition force liberated the country of Kuwait from the Iraqi invasion during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Salih Farhan Rhem found himself between a rock and hard place.
As a Bedoun, a race of people from Kuwait, but not Kuwaiti citizens, Rhem found
his own country turn its back on his people. Forced to leave the country of his birth, he
and his family took refuge in southern Iraq.
Enduring a lifetime of hardship and oppression under the regime of Saddam
Hussein, Rhem has become one of the millions of people in Iraq to taste the precious
treasure that is freedom.
Today he is fulfilling his lifelong goal to be a translator. Working with Marines
and American law enforcement specialists here, he is helping train Iraqi policemen and
border patrolmen to defend their newfound freedom.
“I began interpreting in the refuge camp after the liberation of Kuwait,” he said.
“The United Nations tent was in-between our tents, and I began to interact with some
Americans and civilian media.”
His interaction with the media nearly cost him his life. After pleading the case of
Bedouns to international news outlets, he was chased from the camp by Kuwaiti security
Fleeing the persecution of a government that considered his people to be traitors,
Chris, as he is referred to, faced a new obstacle as he began to settle in the Iraqi city of
Coming to their country from Kuwait, the Iraqis wouldn’t accept him for
citizenship. Determined to finish his education, he worked for six months to purchase an
identification card that would allow him to take classes.
“As a Bedoun in Kuwait I was not allowed to attend university,” he recalled. “It
was depressing, but these types of things were a way of life for the Bedouns.”
In an ironic twist, the Iraqi teachers didn’t consider him either Iraqi or Bedoun,
but Kuwaiti. They placed him under the stereotype that all Kuwaitis were rich and could
afford to engage in ‘extracurricular activities’ to earn passing grades.
“I kept failing my classes, and I couldn’t understand why,” he said. “I would
watch as the students I helped study and tutor would earn high marks, while I was
struggling to pass.”
By his second year, Chris figured out that he, as a ‘rich Kuwaiti,’ was to pay for
“This is against my principles and the principals of Islam,” he explained. “I can
not do this, it is corruption. I won’t pay a dime,” he told the Baath Party teachers.
Chris said he saw this period of his life as a test. He stayed true to his morals and
in seven years finished with a degree in English, a degree that should have only taken
“I never yielded to their corruption,” he said. “Without the prayer I made to my
God, I think I would have gone mad and lost my mind.”
After his schooling, he was again pressured by the corruption of the Baath Party.
He could not find employment because he was not a member. He spent the next several
years moving from town to town, working hard labor for less than 50 cents a day, forced
to pick up and flee when the local Baath Party heard about his non-member status.
“For years I had to yield my destiny and remain patient with my God,” he
explained. “But I would never yield my beliefs and convictions to the evil of the Baath
Although he never became a member, he couldn’t escape the oppression of the
Baath Party’s heavy monthly tax. He fled to Jordan in May of 2002.
“In Jordan I was able to continue in my love of translation,” he said. “I still,
however, felt the effects of living and working in a foreign country.”
His work as a legal translator gave him a good background in the literal and
specific translation of Arabic to English, skills he would soon put to a noble cause.
Watching from Jordan as another American-led coalition began the effort to
liberate Iraq, Chris knew his years of patience and longsuffering would begin to see
As Saddam’s army was destroyed along with his repressive and corrupt regime,
he knew his dream was not far from becoming a reality. When he found out there was a
great need for Arabic translators he left Jordan to return to a new Iraq.
“I remember thinking to myself, ‘it’s a miracle, Saddam is no more,’” he recalled.
“This change, this new democracy, has again allowed me to work with the Americans
and now the Marine Corps. It’s like my dreams are coming true.”
Language is, by far, the most fundamental component of communication.
Breaking the language barrier is vital to the American effort to train Iraqi Security
Forces to defend their new freedoms.
“With the Marines I am helping my country defeat the terrorists who, in the name
of Islam, are murdering innocent people,” he said. “We are training the Iraqi Police and
Border Patrol to fight the terrorists.”
Each day Chris works to mirror the intensity and professionalism of the Marine
“When I am out there I give the same high spirit as the Marines, because it
conveys the importance of the training and knowledge,” he explained. “I give a literal
translation and specific details of the training so that nothing is lost in translation.”
With each graduating class, Chris said he knows he is contributing to the security
and stability of Iraq.
“We are moving forward together,” he said. “We are moving away from the
burden of oppression and toward peace and democracy.”
As he continues to work with the Marines and law enforcement specialists each
day, Chris said he is moving closer to accomplishing the goals he has been working
toward for many years.
He is currently applying for a scholarship to continue his education in America,
and hopes to earn a degree in law one day. He attributes his hard work and dedication to
his father, and sees his achievements as an extension of what he couldn’t have.
“I’m not isolated from my father,” he said. “I’m a continuation of him, only in a
better atmosphere. I thank God that I am able to achieve the things he wanted for me.”
Until that day comes, he said he is going to focus on his task at hand and continue
his part in helping make a brighter Iraq.
“When we see what is happening in our country, with the new freedoms and
democratic elections, it gives us hope and a renewed optimism,” he said. “We can lift our
heads toward the future, something we did not do in the past. We are giving hope to the
generation to come.”
During a dangerous time in Iraq for those who stand against the
terrorists and insurgents, Chris has chosen to not only have his story
told, but to show his picture. “I no longer live in fear, because I
know that this challenge is worth the cost.”
*For more information about the information reported on in this story,
please contact Cpl. Rocco DeFilippis by e-mail at defilippisrc@acemnf-