Two Iraqi refugees who provided support to the United States military during the war in Iraq have reunited in Bowling Green where they feel physically safe after surviving assassination attempts in their homeland but still feel targeted here by the stares and racial slurs they have endured since immigrating to the United States.
A 30-year-old Iraqi man who asked to be identified only as Obie because he fears for the safety of his relatives still living in Iraq, volunteered to help the U.S. during the Iraqi war because he wanted to avenge a terrorist attack on his three brothers that left two of them dead after they had also provided aid to the U.S. military.
Obie – a nickname given to him by American soldiers – met Ayoob Akteyarlee, 25, in 2005 at the U.S. Army Forward Operating Base in Tikrit, Iraq, where both men worked as Iraqi interpreters. The men found common ground based on the similar circumstances they encountered after helping U.S. military forces and the adversity they faced from several groups who opposed their affiliation with the United States. Akteyarlee decided to help American troops because he admired the American soldiers who visited his high school.
The men reunited in Bowling Green last year after they both received Special Immigrant Visas from the U.S. government as a result of receiving a number of death threats and surviving several assassination attempts from terrorist groups in Iraq.
Now they simply seek acceptance in Bowling Green.
"Some people say 'go back to your country you terrorist,' " Akteyarlee said. "We served the United States for five years, why are they telling me to go back to my country?"
"I hate that word," Akteyarlee said about being called a terrorist. "It feels so bad."
For Obie, the word "terrorist" is much more than a slur, it's a reminder of the brothers he lost.
Obie's wife has been publicly admonished here for wearing her hijab, a head covering that some Muslim women wear. People have approached her and told her she could take it off and asked if if she was hot underneath the head scarf. Both Obie and his wife felt insulted by the remarks.
After losing two brothers, he just wants to live his life in peace.
"I had lost two of my brothers – two of my blood brothers – they got killed because they were helping the United States," Obie said. His brothers provided aid to U.S. military troops starting in 2004, and shortly after began receiving death threats from various terrorist groups who opposed their support and aid of American troops during the Iraqi war.
"They were on the way to the hospital to get treated because my brother got shot in his back" in an earlier attack, he said. The men were surrounded by a group of about 300 terrorists the morning of April 8, 2004, who shot at the men repeatedly while they were in transit to a hospital in Tikrit, Iraq. The two brothers who died in the terrorist attack were 26 and 29 years old. The youngest brother, who was 20 years old at the time, escaped the brutal attack by firing back.
"The younger one managed to escape by shooting back at the insurgents," Obie said. He doesn't want to remember the events that left him frozen and shocked when he arrived on the scene shortly after.
"When I went there, I saw what happened," he said. "I don't want to see it or remember it."
After the loss of his two brothers, Obie was determined to get revenge.
"We kind of got our revenge, but not as much as we wanted," he said about defeating terrorists after the killings of his two brothers.
"If you're talking about ethics (terrorists) they don't have any," Obie said. "Do they believe in their own religion? No they don't."
Before Akteyarlee came to Bowling Green, he faced many threats to his safety.
Any residents of another country who help the United States government, "if those citizens are threatened, the U.S. government always has that possibility of providing them visas to fly them out of their country for their safety," Bowling Green International Center Executive Director Albert Mbanfu said.
The presence of danger immediately qualifies those citizens to be bumped up to the front of the list of refugees who are waiting to be admitted into the United States, Mbanfu said.
"This program, which the U.S. government has established, gives preference to particular people," he said. "The U.S. government just picks them from Iraq and brings them straight to the United States depending on the level of threat on their lives."
In Iraq, Akteyarlee said he found a bullet inside his mailbox with a note attached that said if he didn't quit working with American troops, he would be killed.
"They would call my father, they would call my phone, they said 'tell your son if he doesn't quit working with American people, we're going to blow up your home,' " Akteyarlee said.