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thedrifter
02-21-06, 09:41 AM
FALLEN GI'S FAMILY: 'THIS TELLS US TAHT HE DID NOT DIE IN VAIN'
By NILES LATHEM Post Correspondent

WASHINGTON — A heartfelt message from an Iraqi mayor praising U.S. troops as "avenging angels" for liberating his city from al Qaeda terrorists has provided a needed morale booster to the U.S. war effort.

Tal' Afar Mayor Najim Abdullah Abid al-Jibouri has sent a dramatic letter to Gen. George Casey, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, paying tribute to the "courageous men and women" of the Army's 3rd Cavalry Regiment who recently routed al Qaeda in Iraq from the city of 250,000 near the Syrian border.

The letter, written in flowery Arabic and translated into English, expressed profound gratitude to the American troops, who he said "spread smiles on the faces of our children and gave us restored hope through their personal sacrifice and brave fighting and gave new life to the city after hopelessness darkened our days and stole our confidence in our ability to re-establish our city."

"I have met many soldiers of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment; they are not only courageous men and women but avenging angels sent by the God himself to fight the evil of terrorism," al-Jibouri said in the letter.

"God bless this brave regiment; God bless the families who dedicated these brave men and women. From the bottom of our hearts, we thank the families. They have given us something we will never forget," he added.

Al-Jibouri's letter is being circulated among military families over the Internet and is being handed out to families of the legendary 3rd Cavalry Regiment, which is now returning home to Fort Carson, Colo., from its second yearlong deployment in Iraq.

The family of Lt. Col. Terrence Crowe, a Buffalo-area officer who was killed in Tal' Afar last June, wept openly after reading al-Jibouri's words of tribute in which he also said the 39 soldiers killed in the recent counterterror operation in his city will forever be remembered.

"They are not dead, but alive and their souls hovering around us every second of every minute. They will never be forgotten for giving their precious lives," al-Jibouri wrote.

"I know it would have made Terry very proud," Crowe's sister Peggy told The Post as she cried into the telephone. Crowe, a divorced father of two teenagers, was a professor at Canisius College in Buffalo and member of the New York Army Reserve.

He was on home leave in upstate Grand Island two weeks before he was killed and was "very upset" at what was happening in Tal' Afar while it was under the control of al Qaeda — especially to the children of the city.

Crowe, 44, was killed by sniper fire shortly after returning to Iraq while leading a platoon of new Iraqi soldiers.

"He would have been pleased to know they accomplished their mission," his sister said of al-Jibouri's letter.

Crowe's parents were even more moved by the powerful letter. "I think this is a vindication. It tells me our son certainly did not die in vain," said Crowe's father, George Crowe, himself a former military officer.

"I was very surprised and pleased by this letter . . . This has given us a lot of comfort," added Crowe's mother, Mary Ann.

On the surface, al-Jibouri would seem like an unlikely candidate to be a symbol of rising morale in the U.S. military. He's a Sunni Arab and a former officer in Saddam Hussein's military.

Military officials said he was brought to Tal' Afar from another part of Iraq earlier this year to replace a Shiite police chief accused of looking the other way while death squads in his command targeted local Sunnis.

Al-Jibouri was later promoted to mayor and this past fall worked side by side with Col. H.R. McMaster, commander of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, on a major counterinsurgency operation called Operation Restore Rights.

The operation targeted the al Qaeda network headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was using Tal' Afar — located 40 miles from the Syrian border — as a base for moving money and suicide bombers into Iraq. The 3rd Cavalry, working closely with tribal leaders, newly trained Iraqi troops and the civilian population, isolated Zarqawi's henchmen and conducted a precision house-to-house operation to rout the terrorists.

Today, schools are open, a municipal government is starting to function and terrorist attacks are way down — though not completely stifled, according to a military spokesman. "The mission they have accomplished, by means of a unique military operation, stands among the finest feats to date in Operation Iraqi Freedom and truly deserves to be studied in military science," al-Jibouri wrote in his letter.

Through this hard-fought campaign to save one Iraqi city, al-Jibouri and McMaster — sworn adversaries during the U.S. invasion of Iraq — formed an unusual partnership and close personal bond. In fact, al-Jibouri sent a second letter — to President Bush — begging him to keep the 3rd Cavalry Regiment in Iraq after its current assignment ends at the end of the month. "I think this will be a relationship that will last for a lifetime," McMaster's wife, Katie, told The Post. "They are truly kindred spirits."

In an e-mail to The Post, McMaster said his partnership with al-Jibouri is a model on how to rebuild Iraq village by village, city by city. "This letter . . . reflects sentiments that I believe exist across the country," McMaster said.

"What is difficult for Americans to see are the relationships we have developed with the brave people of this country who want a better future for their children."

niles.lathem@nypost.co

Ellie