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Former Iraqi is breaking the silence

Larry and Najeeba Coffey of Silverdale have been celebrating the Dec. 14 capture of Saddam Hussein. Najeeba, a Baghdad native has lived in fear for the past 26 years that revealing her heritage would mean harm to family in Iraq.  - Photo by Jesse Beals
Larry and Najeeba Coffey of Silverdale have been celebrating the Dec. 14 capture of Saddam Hussein. Najeeba, a Baghdad native has lived in fear for the past 26 years that revealing her heritage would mean harm to family in Iraq.
— image credit: Photo by Jesse Beals

Najeeba Coffey sits on the couch in her Silverdale home, her husband Larry at her side. Their 9-year-old son plays games upstairs. In her arms she holds a monkey, a stuffed toy she took with her when she fled Baghdad.

For the past 26 years Najeeba has kept silent about her heritage, the life she had in Iraq and her near miss with evil.

Until Dec. 14, she feared if she revealed too much, someone would report her and take revenge on her family in Iraq.

But with the capture of Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein, the constant worry has lifted and Najeeba can share her experience.

The monkey is faded and tattered. Najeeba looks a it and says, “It’s been through a lot. We both have.”

She remembers there were times when the family would plant corn on their farmland and they would find human bones.

“American people don’t know what is going on over there. He loves himself. He’s like Hitler,” she said.

When her brother turned 18, he was told he could go to school and become part of Hussein’s regime or be an outcast.

Najeeba had her own close call when Hussein’s cousin, who lived across the street from her family, sent a servant to ask if she had been promised to someone in marriage. Her family told him she had been promised to an American cousin.

“The writing was on the wall,” Larry said.

Najeeba and her immediate family fled Baghdad and headed to Detroit where she had family. When they arrived in the United States, “We started kissing the ground we were so happy,”

Her mother had gold taped to her waist and smuggled the family’s gems into the country. They took the Greyhound to Tennessee.

Najeeba was careful not to associate with other arabs and would tell people she was from Egypt.

“We picked up the carpet and we hid,” she said.

Najeeba met Larry in Gaitlenburg, Tenn., where her parents had purchased a hotel. Their families got to know each other and Larry, who was stationed in Italy with the Navy at the time, and Najeeba were introduced to each other. Four months later they got married.

Larry said he experienced more racist comments about Iraqis during the first Gulf War. He was stationed in Fort Benjamin Harrison and “for the first time I felt like the minority.”

He credits the first President Bush for telling the American people in no uncertain terms was this hot war with the Iraqi people, but with Saddam Hussein.

“I was scared more the first war,” Najeeba said. She recalls hiding in the stockroom at Wal-Mart because she heard her fellow employees’ threatening comments about Iraqi people.

The second war has brought far less racism and contempt for Iraqi people Larry said.

“”If anyone ever questions her I’ve told her to tell them ‘I’ve spent 17 years as a Navy wife, how did you serve your country?’”

The Coffeys got a 5 a.m. call about Hussein’s capture and have been celebrating ever since.

“If George W. Bush were here in this room, I’d give him a hug and a kiss,” Najeeba said.

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