Iraq's ambassador to the United States talked about the price of war. Then he met a woman who'd paid it _ with the loss of her son.
In Vermont for a series of appearances, Samir Shakir Mahmood Sumaida'ie brought a message of gratitude and a plea for more U.S. investment in rebuilding his war-torn nation.
The 66-year-old diplomat met with members of the Vermont National Guard over lunch Monday, spoke about democracy-building in postwar Iraq at St. Michael's College on Monday night and met Tuesday with Iraqis who settled in Vermont as part of a refugee resettlement program before traveling to the Vermont capital to speak at the Statehouse.
In a 20-minute speech book-ended by standing ovations, he told about 200 lawmakers and members of the public gathered in the House chamber that his country _ where more than two dozen United States servicemen with ties to Vermont have died _ will rise from the ashes.
"Together with Iraqis, American soldiers_ men and women _ fought to free the country and to build a new political system which is based on freedom and human rights. Through you, I would like to express the gratitude of all Iraqis for the sacrifices made by so many American families. The sacrifice made by the families, those who lost loved ones. We will remember them forever as saviors," he said, calling Iraq a permanent, faithful partner of the United States.
Having helped liberate it, America should also share in the rebuilding the country's infrastructure and educating its children, which will require the participation of international companies, he said.
"But (the ones competing for contracts) are mostly from India, China, Italy, Turkey, Germany, not so much from the United States. The United States is the country that paid the highest price for Iraq to be turned around. We would like the United States to be at the front of the line, not at the end of the line.
"We would like them to reap the benefits of their participating in Iraq," he said.
He said Iraq is no longer a war zone but "an opportunity country" that has boundless possibilities as a religious and cultural tourism destination.
After his speech, state Rep. Vicki Strong approached him at the podium and introduced herself.
Strong, R-Orleans/Caledonia, lost her son, U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Jesse Strong, 24, of Albany, in an ambush in Anbar Province.
"He assured me his sacrifice was not in vain," said Strong, who gave him a copy of her husband Nathan's self-published book, "Thoughts for Jesse," and chatted briefly with him as the chambers emptied out.
"I just told him it was a privilege for my son to serve his country and help them take those baby steps of freedom. Actually, Jesse died securing the Iraqi polls for their very first free Iraqi election. When my son's body was being shipped here to us, the Iraqi people stepped out of their homes for the first time to vote.
"As much as we miss him and feel horrible grief, we feel proud," she said afterward.
Sumaida'ie said that with time, America's sacrifices will gain more meaning.
"I said to her that we are sorry and saddened of her loss. We will remember her son and all those who fell fighting for Iraq and our freedom. We also have made a lot of sacrifices and suffered a lot of losses, so we understand sorrow and grief. I also said to her that the way Iraq is moving, the way it will be in 10, 20 years from now, will vindicate all these losses, will give them meaning. These losses have not been made in vain," he said.
Information from: The Burlington Free Press, http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com