Was it an Accident?
by Stephanie Booth

BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- In the early evening of May 18, 40-year-old Fizoon Ashraf was cooking steaks in the small kitchen of her Brooklyn home when there was a knock at the front door. Her two youngest children -- Safraz, age 7, and Shavana, 10, jumped up from the TV to answer it while she continued draining vegetables over the sink. They returned to the kitchen, confused. "Mom," Shavana said, "two strangers dressed in uniforms like Rasheed are at the door."


                   Fizoon Ashraf (left), mother of Rashid Sahib (right), a specialist with the US Army's 4th Infantry Division.

That was all Fizoon needed to hear to know something very bad had happened to her son, 22-year-old Rasheed Sahib. Fizoon's eldest, and a specialist with the Army's 4th Infantry Division, Rasheed had shipped out to Iraq on
April 1. Fizoon had been deeply against his going; she worried constantly about his safety and about his being so far away from his family. Two days before he left, she had demanded, "How will I know if something bad happens to you?"
Relying on the good nature and patience that had earned him the nickname "Smiley" from his friends, Rasheed had tried to comfort his mother. "Everything's already taken care of, Mom," he'd said. "People will get to you if I have an accident. Two soldiers will come to the door and they'll have a sheet of paper that will explain what's happened to me."

Fizoon had ordered Rasheed to be quiet. She didn't want to hear words bringing her worst imaginable fear to life. A little over six weeks later, the knock came anyway. Without thinking, she screamed at her children for answering the door and allowing a tragedy to enter their home. Her entire body shaking, feet suddenly heavy, Fizoon struggled to walk the few steps to the front of the house. There the soldiers were, just as Rasheed had
"No," she told them, her voice trembling. "You are not bringing a message about my son."

They began to apologize, explaining there had been an accident. That's all Fizoon heard before fainting to the floor. "I used to say, when I heard that soldiers passed away, 'How do [their families] go on and live?'" Fizoon says. "Now, it's happened to me, and I don't know what to do. Every day, I cry for my son. I know God will hate me for this, but God is unfair."
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Since President Bush declared the end of major hostilities in Iraq on May 1, 149 American troops have been killed. But Rasheed Sahib's death is something of an anomaly. He was fatally shot in the chest by another soldier in the unit who was cleaning his gun. While a criminal investigation by senior Army officials is still underway, the Department of Defense has so far declared the incident an accident. Rasheed's family isn't convinced. They worry the Army is withholding the truth from them, and that perhaps Rasheed was even targeted because he was a Muslim.

[Editor's Note: Salon Magazine did a serious or short pieces on American soldiers in Iraq killed in mysterious or accidental cumstances. This is one. What makes this story very suspicious is that the soldier was a Muslim serving among Americans who were being targeted by Muslims.]

September 10, 2003
© 2001