AL BASRAH, Iraq -- It was eleven years since Tariq Mizori stepped foot in Iraq. Now he was standing in the shadow of Saddam Husain's former presidential palace in the southern city of Al Basrah. Wearing a military uniform with the letters FIF pronouncedly situated on his shoulder, Mizori looked pensive as he stared at the Tigris River.
"I never thought I would live to see this day," Mizori said. "I can't begin to tell you how it feels to be standing here."
Mizori is one of hundreds of Iraqis who are assisting coalition forces throughout Iraq. He is a member of the Free Iraqi Forces or FIF. Mizori works with the 358th Civil Affairs Brigade, from Norristown, Penn. The civil affairs unit evaluates need and coordinates resources to bring humanitarian aid to southern Iraq as part of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. Mizori brings the Iraqi perspective to that effort.
"I learned that the Department of Defense was seeking former citizens of Iraq to help the American forces during and after the war," Mizori said. "I didn't hesitate. I volunteered and soon I was on my way back to my homeland."
After he left Iraq in 1992, Mizori and his family relocated to San Diego, Calif. In San Diego Mizori established his new life and as he said "flourished." Mizori owns and operates a taxi in the city.
"I drove my taxi 14 or 18 hours a day. I did alright financially but most importantly I was free to decide what I did and how I did it," Mizori said with obvious pride. He became a United States citizen in 2001.
In his role with the humanitarian assistance effort Mizori helps with translations but his real value as part of the organization is how he can relate to the Iraqi people and relay those impressions to the soldiers and Marines he works with.
"Tariq and the FIF provide detail and cultural knowledge that we can't get from books," said Maj. Tom Kinton of Elizabeth City, Md. Kinton is the civil affairs brigade's linguist team chief and works directly with Mizori and the seven other FIF members assisting the unit.
Prior to emigrating from Iraq Mizori was a police captain and worked mainly in northern part of the country. He assists the public safety team within the unit in establishing a framework for a more effective and fair Iraqi police department. Other FIF members include a lawyer, an engineer and a former professor with a Ph.D. in computer science. They assist the unit in their areas of expertise.
Kinton believes the FIF brings exponential value to the humanitarian assistance mission.
"The FIF bring diversity," Kinton said. "They speak civil-military operations language. They understand what we are trying to do."
As the fourth phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom proceeds, members of the 358th Civil Affairs Brigade meet with Iraqi community leaders on a regular basis. Kinton said having an Iraqi involved in the meeting provides the necessary "ice breaker".
"The FIF facilitate dialog and move the process along quickly," Kinton said.
Mizori exclaims his pride when speaking of his contribution to the operation. "When the time is right I will return to my town and my friends and family in Northern Iraq," Mizori said. "But for now I am here to help get assistance to those who need assistance and use my knowledge and experience to further Iraq's move towards democracy."
"My life in America has shown me what it is to be free," said Mizori. "I want to share that with my fellow countrymen."