Out there in Iraq, amidst the bombings and killings are Iraqis risking
their lives so western journalists do their job and relay information
back to us in the comfort of our homes and offices. Below is a moving
tribute to one of probably many unsung heroes.
Farewell to Yasser, The Times’s driver: an unsung hero of the Iraq war
James Hider, The Times
Another day, another round of bombs in Baghdad. A blip that barely
registers in the news after so many years of bloodshed, and quickly
blurs into the endless images of familiar carnage.
Except this day was different for me and many of my colleagues who
have covered the Iraq war. This was the day that my friend Yasser
vanished in that inevitable cloud of grey smoke that you see on your
television screens or newspaper pages.
Yasser was The Times’s driver for the past seven years, since the fall
of the regime that he had hated so much. He joined the newspaper
pretty much the same week I did, and together we worked through the
bloodiest periods of the war. Yasser — whose surname I cannot put in
print, even now, because of the danger to his brother, who also works
as a Times driver — was one of the thousands of Iraqis who have made
the media coverage of the war possible: uncredited, unsung heroes of a
war most people would rather forget.
He had survived some terrifying episodes, from being “ethnically
cleansed” with his family by Sunni insurgents from their home in 2006,
when they moved into our hotel but did not stop working, to blocking
the road with his car as a vehicle full of armed kidnappers tried to
abduct a Times reporter one evening near the Tigris river. He saved my
life and the lives of colleagues at the risk of his own, only to step
out of The Times office at exactly the wrong moment on Monday, the
moment when a suicide car bomber fought his way into the compound and
blew himself up.
Over the years Yasser and his brother became close to all of us: they
would be waiting at the airport when we flew in to drive us along the
notorious Route Irish road when it was still a daily death trip; they
would hug us like brothers when we left, always with a promise to
return. But they did not just drive us into battle zones: they bought
us cakes on our birthdays, invited us, when it was safe, to their home
for meals cooked by their mother. Through the years we went to their
weddings, saw Yasser become a proud father of two girls and, recently,
hope for a better future for the country.
Yasser was a kind and funny man who had seen too much misery but
retained his ability to crack a wicked joke. When we met, he told that
me he had learnt English when training as a vet, but had never
practised because he did not like any animals except for sheep. He was
sweet and courteous, and called my girlfriend “Prince” until we
pointed out that it was a male name. He cackled at his own mistake.
On one of my first outings with him through the lawless streets, he
suddenly executed a U-turn through gridlocked traffic and sped off: he
had spotted a gang of looters pulling people from the cars ahead,
stabbing them and stealing their vehicles. Another time, when we were
grabbed by the notorious al-Mahdi Army militia, masked gunmen dragged
me and my translator off to an unknown destination in Sadr City. As a
Shia from the area, Yasser could have driven off and no one would have
blamed him: instead, I was hugely relieved to spot him through the
rear window belting after us. He stayed with me until we managed to
negotiate our release.
The last time I was in Baghdad, almost a year ago, Yasser made me
promise to return. I will, very soon, but too late to see his smiling
face. He was buried by his family yesterday in the Shia holy city of
Instead, I will be greeted by his inconsolable brother, who was too
devastated to do anything more than cry when I phoned him yesterday. I
cried with him, because Yasser was not just another faceless
statistic. He was a friend and a heroic colleague who will be missed