Dispatch from Iraq
After Sixteen Months, a Reunion with the Rescued
In the first volume of Nations Journal we introduced you to Dave Eubank, a former U.S. Army Special Forces and Ranger officer and founder of the Free Burma Rangers (FBR), a humanitarian service movement for oppressed ethnic minorities in war zones. Since our team first visited the Eubanks in Southeast Asia, we have followed their story to Iraq where they run rescue and relief operations for civilians oppressed by ISIS. (You can hear more from the Eubanks in the documentary “Iraq: A Forgotten Hope.”)
June 2, 2017. In West Mosul, dozens of citizens lay dead in the street near a destroyed Pepsi factory. This location had become a funnel for civilians trying to escape ISIS’s last stronghold and a killing field for ISIS snipers watching over the area.
With the help of an Iraqi tank and coalition forces, the Free Burma Rangers (FBR) ran a rescue operation to save a little girl, Demoa, and a man who were trapped behind ISIS lines near the factory’s rubble. The team believed these two were the only survivors until Iraqi police received a phone call the next morning from a woman named Kohfram. She lay trapped and bleeding inside the factory. From her place amidst the ruin, she could hear four other survivors nearby—a man, woman, and two children.
Of the 150 people murdered by ISIS over the past five days—men, women, children, babies, old men in wheelchairs, and crippled grandmothers—only these five survived.
An Iraqi police private named Zuhair brought the FBR team word of Khofran’s call. After witnessing Demoa’s rescue the day before, he trusted them to save these survivors. The rescue team agreed and assembled to pray and plan the operation.
All day long, ISIS snipers fired shots down the street. The wounded survivors inside the factory tried to stay hidden as gunshots crossed in the air above. When the team moved into the ISIS-controlled zone, the Iraqi army vehicle in front of them was destroyed by a rocket-propelled grenade. “Our Humvee was hit by gunfire multiple times, but not crippled,” Dave recalls. “We thanked Jesus and kept driving through the ISIS fire.”
On earlier rescues, the U.S. military had dropped smoke to screen FBR’s movements from ISIS. Today the team operated in plain sight. Without the screen of smoke and soon without vehicles, they moved toward the factory through sniper fire on foot. ISIS soldiers surrounded the building on three sides. “As we walked through, we could hear their voices,” Dave says. “I prayed in Jesus’ name that ISIS could not see, hear, or stop us and that Satan and his demons could not stop us. I said, ‘And if you, Satan, do not like my prayer, talk to Jesus because we are going in behind Him.’”
On the street outside, more than 50 bodies lay scattered. One man was slouched dead in his wheelchair, unable to escape the sniper’s fire. Nothing moved.
Inside the factory rubble the team found a little girl named Suriya, a badly wounded man, a crippled boy, and Khofran. Then, from that corpse-strewn street, they heard a noise. Thirty yards away, behind a destroyed car, a woman called out from between three dead bodies. “Help me,” she cried weakly in Arabic.
“I prayed to Jesus for courage and a way to save her since she was in an open area covered by ISIS gunfire; then Zuhair and I held hands and I prayed again, in desperation, for God to help,” Dave says. When they finished praying, Zuhair looked up and pointed to a loose wire hanging from a nearby wall.
Zuhair and Dave cut a long length of wire. Zuhair told Suriya—who they later learned was this woman’s daughter—to run part of the way into the street and throw the wire to her. Because Suriya was so small, they knew ISIS would only see her for a few seconds. She ran out a few steps, tossed the wire to the woman, and dashed back. ISIS fired two shots too late. The woman tied the wire around her wrist and the team dragged her out of the street, away from the corpses and open fire.
Her name was Eman. She had been shot in the arm and her leg was broken by mortar shrapnel. For five days she had lain exposed in the heat, surrounded by the dead, with flies swarming her wounds. Under the protection of the One who frees the oppressed, the Free Burma Rangers had dragged her from a killing field and into safety.
October 1, 2018. Since the battle for Mosul ended, the Free Burma Rangers have reunited with almost everyone they rescued, except for Eman and Suriya.
After pulling her from the street, they brought Eman to an Iraqi casualty collection point to receive care. Since then they had lost touch, and no one could tell them whether or not she survived. For sixteen months Dave and his team searched for her. They heard contradicting rumors: some said she was dead, others claimed she was in hiding, while a few believed that her husband had died. The FBR team prayed and scoured the destroyed streets of Mosul’s neighborhoods.
On October 1, the team returned to Mosul to follow up with other rescued survivors. They returned to the destroyed Pepsi factory where ISIS had gunned down civilians trying to flee and prayed, again, to find Eman.
As Dave and his team climbed out of their vehicles, a man walked by carrying a small engine. He stopped and watched, seeming to recognize them. “Who are you,” he asked, “and what are you doing?”
Dave told him, “We are visiting the place where we did a rescue last year.”
“That was my wife and daughter you rescued,” the man replied. “We have been looking for you for over a year. Thank God!”
The man introduced himself as Eman’s husband, Mohammad. He led the team to his house where they found Eman, sitting on the floor on a thin mattress, still too injured to stand but smiling. Her eyes spoke peace. Suriya ran inside from playing in the yard and Dave embraced them both.
As they talked, Eman and Mohammad recounted their story. Mohammad had gone ahead of Eman to help four of their children flee when a mortar barrage and ISIS gunfire separated them. As the bullets sprayed through the air, Mohammad realized he couldn’t turn back and had to save the children still with him. In the week following their escape, he searched every hospital and displaced persons camp. Mohammed started to believe his wife and daughter were dead.
“I thought I was dreaming,” Eman said, recalling the moment when the Rangers pulled her from the rubble and into safety. As his wife described her rescue, Mohammad expressed the joy his family felt upon discovering Eman and Suriya had survived.
Eman has not been able to walk since mortar shrapnel broke her hip, and an ISIS sniper bullet remains lodged in her arm. She assured Dave that Mohammad takes care of their growing family: five children with a baby on the way. The Rangers gifted Eman, Suriya, and Mohammad medals for bravery, as well as funds to put toward surgeries for Eman. The family hopes she will walk again soon, perhaps in time to chase her sixth child around.
Join the Free Burma Rangers team in praying for full healing for Eman.
If you would like to give to Eman’s surgery funds, you can donate here.
Nations Media is a platform for stories that transform the world. We use journalism and multimedia storytelling to bear witness to God’s present hope in places of pain and persecution.