Former refugee from Iraq reflects on 10 years of liberation - - Columbia, South Carolina |

Former refugee from Iraq reflects on 10 years of liberation

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Joseph Riheem Joseph Riheem

Joseph Riheem's American dream had nothing to do with money or title. Freedom is all he wanted.

"My father's brother died because he said he didn't like Saddam," said Riheem. "That's it."

Riheem said in the late 70's, two of his uncles were abducted and killed by Hussein's regime. It wasn't until after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 that Riheem's father was able to find his brothers' remains.

Five years later, Riheem said Sunni militia took him hostage, holding him for days.

"Every day he gave me a little bit of water and bread," Riheem said. "He was angry with me because I didn't like Saddam."

Riheem said he was eventually rescued by the American military and wound up in the Midlands as a refugee.  Upon coming to America, Riheem changed his name from Qays to Joseph.

That's where Patty Reece came in. She answered the call from Lutheran Family Services which was looking for English teachers.

"We went into a classroom and I thought 'What in God's name have I gotten myself into?'" said Reece. "I'm not a teacher."

But simple repetition and common sense gave Joseph a decent foundation. He's still learning, living with Reece's family in West Columbia. It's a miniature melting pot all its own. And Reece is thankful for the perspective.

"I thought I was proud of my great-grandparents coming here from Ireland, Germany and France," she said. "And I feel through him what they must have felt, and I thank God for it."

The price of his freedom isn't lost on Riheem, who remains grateful for his new family and new life.

"I thank God that America helped my country," he said. "I'm saddened by American military deaths. They helped my country. No America, Saddam could've killed more of my people."

It's been ten years since the fall of Baghdad. 

That day was marked by one of the most memorable images of the Iraq war: the statue of Saddam Hussein being pulled down by the U.S. Army.  It symbolized an end to his days in power.

Today just a foot and twisted metal remain where the statue once stood. There's talk of making it into a speaker's corner and a monument to freedom.

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