By Mike Mooneyham

Sept. 25, 2005

When Adnan Alkaissy thinks about Iraq, it evokes wistful memories of a beautiful homeland of hard-working, peace-loving people. His memories, though, are in stark contrast to the images of war and bloodshed beamed to America on a daily basis.

The 65-year-old Alkaissy, son of a Muslim cleric, traces much of the heartache and tragedy that has befallen his country over the past 30 years to one man.

Saddam Hussein, the deposed Iraqi ruler who faces a slew of charges of crimes against humanity, was a boyhood acquaintance of Alkaissy. The two went to school together in Baghdad, played on the same ball fields and even engaged in lively debate about politics. Little did Alkaissy know then that his friend would become one of the most ruthless dictators in history.

It’s been a long time since the former professional wrestler has been able to tell his story. But he’s now able to talk freely about his remarkable life, which he has chronicled in his recently released autobiography, “The Sheikh of Baghdad” (Triumph Books, $16.95), which he wrote with the help of co-author Ross Bernstein.

“I could never write it as long as Saddam was in power. My family would have been killed,” says Alkaissy, who has been a U.S. citizen since 1967.

Adnan Alkaissy

Adnan Alkaissy

It’s been a quarter of a century since Alkaissy has been in Iraq. He enjoyed a successful career as a pro wrestler under a number of alter egos. He performed as an Indian wrestler named Chief Billy White Wolf during the ’60s and ’70s, as notorious heel Sheik Adnan El-Kaissey during the ’80s and as the controversial General Adnan during a stint with the then-World Wrestling Federation at the height of the Gulf War in the early ’90s. In the latter gimmick, one that created a mainstream furor, he portrayed an associate of Saddam Hussein. Few ever knew that the wrestling angle carried so much real-life history behind it.

SOMETHING EVIL BEHIND THOSE EYES

Alkaissy first met Saddam in junior high school. A lanky youngster a couple years Alkaissy’s senior, Saddam had left his hometown of Tikrit at the age of 10 to live with his maternal uncle in Baghdad.

The two played sports together, matched skills at dominoes in open-air coffee shops, and dined on their favorite meal of shish kebob.

“He loved volleyball and basketball, but I could never get him to wrestle,” jokes Alkaissy, who was physically stronger and much more athletic.

But there was a side to Saddam that was distant and disturbing.

“He had big eyes, and he could stare at you without blinking for maybe a minute or two. If a psychologist had analyzed it back then, he would have known there was something wrong. I think he was badly disturbed. There was evil behind those eyes. It was scary.”

Alkaissy now wonders if Saddam’s impoverished, hardscrabble youth played a part in the brutal, sadistic evildoer he would become.

Saddam never knew his father, a peasant farmer who died or disappeared just months before Saddam was born. His domineering mother, who seems to have cared little for her son, remarried a poor, illiterate farmer from Tikrit, and Saddam gained three half-brothers through the marriage. His stepfather, though, was abusive, harshly beat Saddam and even taught him to steal. It was as though he was primed for violence by early childhood.

Like Saddam, Alkaissy was a Sunni Muslim, a faction of Islam that would become Saddam’s power base although representing less than a third of the Iraqi population. Alkaissy remembers Saddam recruiting political party members as early as junior high.

“He was always busy with politics trying to organize. He always wanted to be in the spotlight.”

At the age of 15, Saddam went back to Tikrit, opened the door of the governor’s office and shot him, according to Alkaissy. He was jailed for six months.

Alkaissy says Saddam’s uncle, who later became governor of Baghdad, got him out of prison and brought him back across the Tigris River. “His uncle was a judge, and he had a lot of influence.”

With the revolutionary pan-Arab Baath Party becoming established in Iraq, Saddam’s political involvement and clandestine opposition activity grew. In 1957, at age 20, Saddam joined the party, a group of young activists who advocated Arab nationalism and socialism.

“He recruited all the people I knew in high school and all the people in our district. Everyone I knew became a member of the Baath Party. I was the only one who refused. We even had a small argument about it. I told him that he had to understand that I had just applied for a scholarship with the American Friends of the Middle East. It was a big CIA office in Baghdad at the time.”

Alkaissy, a standout wrestler and soccer player who was equally adept in track and field and weight lifting, says the general director of the office took a liking to him because of his athletic prowess.

“He told me I was wasting my time here. But I told him I was the poorest guy in the country and couldn’t afford to leave. My dad was a preacher – a mufti – and there were seven of us including my parents. But he said he would take care of it.”

Everyone in the family was very excited that Alkaissy was getting an opportunity to go to the United States. Everyone, that is, except his mother.

“I was the youngest in the family, and she had always taken me under her arm. She didn’t know what America was. She was a religious woman who stayed home and took care of the family. She had never been anywhere except to visit friends and relatives in the area. She never really learned to read or write.”

Alkaissy remembers taking her to an eye doctor once to get checked for glasses. He handed her a pair of frames, she put them on and gushed about how much better she could see. The glasses, though, had not yet been fitted with lenses.

“God bless her soul. She asked me what America was. I told her America was a couple of hours in a bus. She felt better when I told her that.”

COMING TO AMERICA

During the boat ride to the United States, Alkaissy met Canadian pro wrestling star Yvon Robert, who encouraged him to take up the sport, an idea Alkaissy put in his back pocket.

He proceeded on to the University of Houston on a football scholarship, although he had never played the sport. Surprised to learn that the ball had points on both ends, the soccer standout was a natural athlete and a quick learner, so the transition to football was surprisingly smooth.

When the coaching staff later bolted for jobs at SMU, however, Alkaissy drove to Oklahoma State University in Stillwater and introduced himself to the wrestling team. His first test was a 350-pounder who outweighed him by well over a hundred pounds. Alkaissy got behind him in a couple of minutes, slammed him on the mat and had the big man screaming from a broken ankle. The OSU coach immediately handed Alkaissy a scholarship.

Alkaissy earned All-American honors, captured an AAU title in the 191-pound weight class and led his squad to NCAA national championships in 1958-59. Shy of finishing at OSU by just a few credits, he earned his bachelor’s degree at Portland State where he doubled as assistant wrestling coach. He went on to get his master’s in education at the University of Oregon where he also coached the wrestling team.

With an accomplished amateur wrestling background and remembering the words of veteran grappler Robert, Alkaissy broke into the pro ranks. He returned to Houston where he teamed with former Cougar football teammate Hogan Wharton and won the Texas tag-team title doing a gridiron gimmick.

He became a pro star under the name Billy White Wolf. Even though Alkaissy was Iraqi, the Indian gimmick was a natural. He looked more like an Indian than most of the wrestlers of that era who masqueraded as Native American performers.

“Everyone tells me I looked like (actor) Anthony Quinn,” says Alkaissy, a still-handsome man with a tanned face and full head of snowy white hair. “When I put the headdress on, I looked like a real Indian. I picked up the gimmick of speaking a little Indian, and it got over big. Fans don’t care who you are as long as you do the job right.”

Having not been in Iraq in seven years, the 23-year-old Alkaissy decided to go home and visit family in 1963. The homecoming was a sad one. He discovered that his parents had died several years earlier. His family had hidden it from him because they were afraid he would leave school and return to Iraq before graduating.

“I was so sad. I cried so hard for my mother. I came in with about $30,000 in cash just to give to my mom and my dad to make them happy. I had dreamed about them and coming home.”

THE PEOPLE’S CHAMPION

As a make-believe Indian chief, Alkaissy became a star in this country as well as Japan and Australia. Playing the role of a villain as well as a hero, he became well versed in how to manipulate the crowd and perfect his craft.

In the seven years after his return from Iraq, he lived in a number of wrestling hotspots, including Dallas, San Francisco, Portland, Honolulu, Japan, Australia and London.

Homesick for his native land, Alkaissy returned to Baghdad in 1969 to find his old friend Saddam firmly entrenched in the political scene. It wasn’t long before he summoned Alkaissy to a meeting in which the wrestler was told that he was the newest national hero. It was clear that Saddam wanted to use him as a role model.

“We are going to take care of you,” Saddam said. “You are going to make us proud. So we are not asking you to stay and do this; we are expecting you to do this.”

“We hugged and we kissed,” recalls Alkaissy. “He told me that he wanted me to stay in Iraq, but I explained to him that I was only back home on vacation.”

“No vacation, no vacation,” replied Saddam, “this is your home. You are staying.”

“You’re the boss,” Alkaissy told Saddam. It was much like a scene in a Godfather movie. It was an offer he just couldn’t refuse.

The locals soon began talking more about Alkaissy and sports than they were about the unstable and dangerous political situation in Iraq. Revolutionary sentiment and factionalism was the order of the day, says Alkaissy, who witnessed executions and assassinations. Between 1968 and 1973, through a series of sham trials, executions, assassinations and intimidation, the party ruthlessly eliminated any group or person suspected of challenging Baath rule.

“Before I came back, average people would sit in the coffee shops playing dominoes and chess and cards, and all of them talked about politics. Who’s going to be assassinated tomorrow? Who’s going to be shot tomorrow? Who’s going to be hung tomorrow? But they all forgot politics and began following me on television. They changed their focus.”

Alkaissy became one of the most popular men in Iraq during the early 1970s and was showered with gifts. He recalls fans bringing goats to sacrifice at his matches and Baath Party members asking him to marry their daughters.

“It was amazing. I had a beautiful palace. But I was a prisoner of my own life at home. I couldn’t go outside because of the people. It was frustrating, but what could I do? My popularity became greater than Saddam, and he didn’t like it. But he kept using me because it allowed him to achieve what he wanted.”

With Saddam’s blessing, Adnan began bringing in wrestlers for shows in Iraq. Top stars such as George Gordienko, Bob Roop and Andre The Giant were all brought in for events at Baghdad’s cavernous al-Shaab Stadium.

A match with Andre was the highlight event of the 50th anniversary of the Iraqi army, and a number of world dignitaries attended. Alkaissy estimates that at least 300,000 people turned out of for the one-match show, with more fans outside the sports stadium than inside.

Saddam, who had become a huge fan of the sport, met with Alkaissy prior to the bout. “This man is a wimp,” Saddam said of the seven-foot-tall, 500-pound French behemoth. Saddam then lifted up his coat, revealing a solid gold, British-made gun. “I will empty every bullet in his head if he beats you and send him home in a pine box to (French president Charles) deGaulle,” the Iraqi leader told him in Arabic.

Alksaissy took the threat very seriously.

“Oh my Lord,” he thought to himself, knowing he had to get back to Andre before they went ahead with the previously agreed-upon plan in which Andre would win one of the three falls.

The crowd was so loud, says Alkaissy, that he couldn’t get together with Andre and instead went to the referee to tell him there would be no fall for Andre. “Andre would be disqualified in the first fall in 10 minutes and I would beat him for the second fall in 10 minutes.”

Alkaissy feared that had Andre beaten him in the second fall, the crowd might not have realized that there was still a third fall to go in the match. “It would be adios amigo. Andre would have been dead.”

About a thousand Iraqi commandos shot their rifles skyward to celebrate after the match, says Alkaissy. “Andre sat down and rolled outside the ring and hid underneath the ring. He couldn’t understand what was going on. He didn’t know if they were shooting at him or not. His legs shook like leaves. He was so scared he was nearly in tears.”

The match was so successful that the two wrestled another bout a week later at a stadium near Fallujah.

Not surprisingly, Alkaissy never lost a match in Iraq, and fortunately Saddam never discovered it was all a work.

THE PRICE OF FAME

Saddam had wanted Alkaissy to serve as a goodwill ambassador in other Middle Eastern countries. The wrestler met many political leaders who came into Iraq including King Hussein of Jordan, Moammar Gadhafi of Libya, Uganda’s Idi Amin and Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. He met current U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld when he was a Middle East envoy in Iraq during the ’70s. The two talked a lot about wrestling, he says, noting that Rumsfeld had been captain of his Princeton University wrestling squad. Alkaissy muses that a man who spent so much time in Iraq years later would plan a war there.

Muhammad Ali, who was raising money for Muslim causes in America, put on a boxing exhibition at a wrestling show Alkaissy promoted in Kuwait City. “He collected two million dollars and left with his entourage.”

“I kept my nose clean as a role model and an athlete. They loved me to death. The Baath Party people also liked me very much because I was doing a good job for them.”

To further legitimize his growing celebrity in Iraqi society, Alkaissy was named director of the Ministry of Youth, in charge of athletic programs. He has little doubt he could have continued to climb the ladder – until Saddam decided that it was time for him to be taken out. He was given a furnished palace on the Tigris River, brand new Mercedes and chauffeur, and a host of personal guards. “People surrounded me wherever I went.”

While Alkaissy’s bankroll was overflowing, Saddam’s political power was growing along with his crimes and atrocities. He had gained influence using a combination of intimidation, fear, nepotism and murder, and had begun plunging the country into a bloodbath of medieval proportions.

“He was mean and oppressive, and he became more arrogant and demanding. The only way he came to power was by ruthless killing. I remember when he had about 17 or 18 people hung to death. They put them on the roundabout in the middle of Baghdad, with their necks stretched out and their hands cuffed in the back. He ruled by fear. He paid everybody (to snitch). If you said anything bad about him, it would get back to him immediately, and then you’re in big trouble. He was that way from childhood.”

Anyone who was perceived as a threat was dealt with swiftly and harshly by Saddam’s security services. Villagers were gassed and their homes destroyed. His rivals were murdered or accused of treason and executed. Political dissidents were imprisoned and killed.

Alkaissy now feared that the government may have grown weary of his fame. He knew he had to get out, but he didn’t know how to without endangering his family in the process.

His brother, a judge, told Alkaissy that a nephew who worked at the presidential palace had relayed news that his life was at stake. “They had gotten what they wanted. They didn’t need me anymore,” says Alkaissy. Leaders of both the Communist and National parties approached Alkaissy about the dangers that surrounded him. “They told me it was time for me to pack and go back to the United States. It was safer for me. But what if Saddam said no? What if you want me to do it and he doesn’t want me to do it? Which way do I go? I’m like a guy who swallows a razor. If you take it, it’s going to cut you. If you swallow it, it’s going to cut you. I talked to my brother and he said do it, but not as much until the time cools down and then get the hell out.”

He decided to quietly leave behind two million dollars in the bank, his cars, his furniture, his palatial estate, his privilege. All he took with him was a suitcase.

“I believe if I had taken the two million dollars and skipped the country, Saddam would have sent someone looking for me. I never did anything until now because I was so afraid that he would get to my family and kill them. If I had stayed four or five more months, I would have been taken care of.”

Had Saddam not had him killed, says Alkaissy, he’s sure his son, Odai, would have.

BACK IN THE STATES

Alkaissy moved to Minnesota in 1981 and worked for Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association. Donning flowing Arab garb replete with turban, Middle Eastern robe and saber, he received a major singles push as the villainous Sheik Adnan El-Kaissey and later as a manager with a stable that included ex-Olympic weightlifter Ken Patera and 400-pound Crusher Jerry Blackwell.

Alkaissy’s last major stint in the wrestling business was during the early ’90s when he appeared as a Saddam clone named General Adnan for Vince McMahon’s WWF. The storyline, as drawn up by McMahon, unfortunately coincided with Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the ensuing Gulf War. Adnan teamed with American hero-turned-Iraqi sympathizer Sergeant Slaughter as the two symbolized America’s opponent in the war in an angle that pushed the envelope even by pro wrestling standards.

“I spoke the language and wore a uniform just like Saddam Hussein. I spoke like him and looked like him. We were so hated. I never saw so many flags and chants of USA! USA! I was afraid for my life. There were 30 to 40 security guards protecting me. Vince finally told me to put the flag away. Somebody told me that if someone would have killed me, they probably would have gotten a gold medal. They wouldn’t even investigate who killed you.”

Alkaissy has had his share of close calls in and outside the wrestling ring. He was on board when Maurice “Mad Dog” Vachon opened the door of an eight-seater nicknamed “Suicide One” on the way back home to Minneapolis from a wrestling show in Winnipeg, Canada. With no bathroom on the small company plane, Adrian Adonis relieved himself in a paper sack, and Vachon opened up the emergency exit door to dispose of the odorous contents.

“Jesse Ventura and Nick Bockwinkel were throwing up all over the place,” recalls Alkaissy. “The plane started going down, and we had to make an emergency landing. The pilot wanted to kill him. Do you know what Mad Dog said to him? ‘I needed the fresh air.’ It was unbelievable. It was the last time he ever flew on the company plane.”

Alkaissy also has been close to his share of assassinations, but one stands out in his mind.

He was traveling with tag-team partner Harold Sakata (“Odd Job” in the James Bond series of spy thrillers) on Nov. 22, 1963, the day president John Kennedy was fatally wounded during a motorcade drive through downtown Dallas.

“I had just bought a 1957 Chevy Bell Aire, and it was my turn to drive,” says Alkaissy. “We were living in Houston. We did the TV taping and interviews. We were going to Fort Worth and Austin. As soon as I got to the main road, an officer stopped everyone and told us the president of the United States was coming by. We sat on the hood to get a good look. The parade went right by us.”

Less than 200 yards down the hill, says Alkaissy, they heard a bullet. Not more than five minutes later they witnessed the same car turned around coming by the same road on its way to the hospital.

“I could see the president lying down when he came by. It was like he was asleep. We stopped for nearly an hour. We got the news about an hour later. Tears came down from my eyes. Two hours later, after examining the car, they cleared the road for us to go. We told them we were wrestlers Harold Sakata and Chief Billy White Wolf, and that we were in match in Austin later that night. They let us go. We told the story to the wrestlers there, and they were all shocked.”

DECK OF CARDS

Most of the figures on the infamous Deck of Cards that portrayed 55 members of Iraq’s top regime leaders, says Alkaissy, were acquaintances and neighbors from his early days in Iraq.

One, Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash, later became known as “Mrs. Anthrax” and the five of hearts in the deck. Ammash was a top scientist in Iraq’s biological weapons program and was a member of Saddam’s ruling Baath party. She’s the daughter of a former Iraqi minister of defense who was allegedly murdered by Saddam because he was seen as a potential rival for power.

“I remember her coming over to my house once. She said she just wanted to sit down and talk to me. Her father was a top official, and I didn’t want to take a chance by taking her inside the house. There was nobody there, so I suggested that we sit on the porch in the shade and talk until my brother came. She didn’t think there was anything to worry about, but I told her that I did worry because you never know what people might say. So we got two chairs and talked. My brother came by and couldn’t believe it. He said I was smart because who knew if the Baath Party didn’t send her over to set me up.”

Ammash’s father, says Alkaissy, was a high-level Baath Party member who became defense minister in 1963, deputy prime minister in 1968 and an ambassador in 1977. He is believed to have been killed on the orders of Saddam. “He was also a soccer player who loved sports. He pushed me so hard it was unbelievable. He was very popular, so Saddam sent him over to Europe as an ambassador, rather than kill him in Iraq. Later on he sent over some hit men to take care of him.”

Alkaissy helped Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf, better known as “Baghdad Bob,” Saddam’s hapless minister of information during Operation Iraqi Freedom, get his job back after president Ahmed Hassan Al-Bakh fired him as manager of a television station after botching a wrestling broadcast during the ’70s.

“There’s only one man they haven’t got,” says Alkaissy, and that’s Izzat Ibrahim Al-Douri. He’s an RCC (Revolutionary Command Council) member and high-ranking in the Baath Party.”

Following the capture of Saddam, he became the most wanted man in Iraq. He’s also believed to be involved in directing the Iraqi insurgency against U.S. forces.

“He lived about three doors from my house. I can remember him riding his bike. He was redheaded and as slow talking as can be. He used to sell ice and school supplies in this little garage.”

Years later Alkaissy took him to London for a medical examination. Alkaissy translated, since Al-Douri couldn’t speak English. He recalls the two walking around Hyde Park. “People all around the park were talking openly about the government, condemning the Queen.”

“Would you believe that,” Al-Douri asked Al-Kaissy. “Do you think they could do anything like that in Baghdad?” The two laughed for minutes.

SURVIVING SADDAM

Alkaissy’s thoughts go back to a time when Iraq was more peaceful and tranquil. Baghdad’s gardens, mosques and marble mansions once earned it the reputation as the richest and most beautiful city in the world. It bridged the gap between a modern country and ancient Mesopotamia, the “Cradle of Civilization.”

He fondly recalls the day he saw King Faisal II, the last king of Iraq, parade down the streets of Baghdad in an elaborately decorated carriage.

“I clapped my hands and told my mom how beautiful it was. I remember that so well. I also remember my mom baking bread in the back yard. We were happy kids. I remember pushing Saddam, arguing with him, and him pushing me. It was just very innocent kids growing up. We didn’t know what was going on in this world.”

Things, however, would change.

In 1958 King Faisal and his monarch came to a bloody end, his entire household assassinated during a military coup. A wave of revolutions throughout the Middle East saw the collapse of the monarchies of Iraq and other countries such as Egypt and Libya.

Alkaissy recalls many grizzly scenes from his time in Iraq. He remembers president Abdul Karim Kassem and his secretary being captured and put on national television. “That was the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen in my life. He was in his army uniform and with his secretary. They questioned him for about 10 or 15 minutes, then two guys came in with machine guns and went to work. There must have been 10,000 bullets.”

The Iraq of today is very different. Baghdad’s landscape has been marred by concrete blast walls and barbed wire, its crumbling buildings pockmarked by bullet holes or ransacked by explosions. Every bomb, every missile, every gunshot takes away a part of history that is forever lost.

But Alkaissy believes it can be great again, and that one day Americans will go to Baghdad not for war, but on vacation, to see the ancient sites.

“It’s the most beautiful country in the world. In Baghdad right now, there’s nothing but dust, dirt and mud. It just needs a little organization. They can make a billion dollars a year on tourism. The Hanging Garden of Eden, the Eighth Wonder of the World, the castles, the history. It’s still all there.”

LET JUSTICE BE SERVED

Alkaissy talks regularly to one of his brothers in Iraq. He is a longtime judge and tells Alkaissy that “everyone in the country wants Saddam to be killed right now.”

They say it’s time for healing in their war-weary country that has suffered from two decades of conflict and sanctions under the tyrannical dictator.

“My brother thinks it would be better for the courts to take justice and give justice to the people’s hands,” says Alkaissy. “A fair trial would be the best thing for him because that is the cornerstone of democracy. The verdict could be firing squad until death. Saddam has committed so many crimes and atrocities in the country. There’s no way for him to get away with it. That man killed a lot of people.”

Alkaissy says he wants to be there when sentence is carried out on the “Butcher of Baghdad.”

“I’m happy to see him go on trial and I hope to God I get to watch him face the firing squad. If I go home, I know I’ll get to watch it. I want to be there to watch it and take a picture of it. When the bullet goes through his body and hits the wall and becomes like a 50-cent piece, I’m going to go over and pick it up and bring it back.”

Alkaissy says he wants to give back something to his people – especially the children – who have suffered so long. He has started the Adnan Iraqi Children’s Charity Foundation, and a portion of his book’s proceeds will go to the group. “I just wanted to do something to give back to the people and to the children who have suffered the most from these wars.”

NEW BEGINNINGS

As Alkaissy approaches his 66th birthday, he thinks about the suffering his country has endured under Saddam, a merciless man who didn’t even know his own birthday. A man who was born in a mud hut in a village where no official records were kept of peasant births. A man who took the birthday of a friend as his own, a friend whom he ended up having shot. It just as easily could have been Alkaissy’s fate.

“When he looks at you and smiles, you can see nothing but death. He will give you anything you want. But there’s a price to pay.”

Alkaissy says he fully supports the U.S. invasion of Iraq because it took Saddam and his torturous regime out of power.

“I want to thank America for liberating my country. They did their job. Nobody else could do it. Saddam would have still been in power and killing people. He’s going to receive his justice.”

Alkaissy fears a lasting peace will be hard to achieve as long as power is not evenly distributed among Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.

“The few insurgents and few Sunnis don’t like Shiite people being in power too much. So they’re making noise by bombing and killing people because they don’t like peace and freedom. They’re killing their own people. There are some people who are still following Saddam because they are loyal to him. I think when the time comes for Saddam to get his punishment and he dies and is buried, this thing will not last long. As long as he is alive, they think that they will get him out. They should go ahead and give the verdict and get it over with. These people need some democracy. They’ve been under a dictatorship from Saddam Hussein for 30 years. Let’s put down our arms, shake hands and get it over with. Time will be the only healing element.”

Still he cannot forget his roots. Baghdad’s name means “Garden of God,” and his native land is never far from his mind. He hopes it can rise from the ashes and return to its former glory.

“The people in Iraq are very lovable, hard-working people. They’re very intelligent. It’s the cradle of civilization. There is so much history. Who knows what’s going to happen. I think time will do it … I love this country and I would fight for this country right now, but my roots are in Baghdad. My mom and dad are buried in that land. How can I forget it?”

Alkaissy now lives in Minnetonka, Minn., with his wife, Kathy, and their four children, who range in age from 7 to 16. He in active in his community and does charity work for the Elks and Lions clubs.

“Life here is great. I have two sons and two daughters. My oldest son is 16. He’s 6-4. He plays hockey and baseball. My other son is 14. He’s 6-2 and weighs about 225 pounds. I want to put one of them in wrestling and let them be The Sheikh of Baghdad. They all love wrestling.”

The girls, ages 7 and 12, prefer soccer and softball.

“Back in the old country the people say, ‘They planted and we ate. And we planted and they ate.’ My mom and dad planted me and my brothers and sisters, and we planted our kids. And then we ate and they ate. They will take over and we’ll be gone. That’s how life is.”

Life will be even better when “The Sheikh of Baghdad” is able to return to a free and democratic Iraq where he can introduce his new family to his old one.

“That would really mean something to me. My heart bleeds for my people back home. They haven’t had any freedom for 30 years. Many of them are very poor. It’s time to rebuild the country and let them enjoy life again.”

Mike Mooneyham can be reached by phone at (843) 937-5517 or by e-mail at [email protected] He is the co-author of the New York Times best-seller “Sex, Lies and Headlocks: The Real Story of Vince McMahon and World Wrestling Entertainment.”