How Muhammad Ali helped save 15 Americans in Iraq

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THE Mohammed Ali was one of the most important athletes of the 20th century. He spent most of his life in the limelight and many could describe him as a hero because of his career and his philanthropic work. Ironically, however, one of his most outstanding moments outside the ring is still little known. And it tells the story of 15 Americans who were rescued from Iraq with the help of Mohammed Ali.

In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait and thousands of foreigners were taken hostage. Tensions escalated when the United Nations called on him Saddam Hussein to stop the invasion, with the latter fearing that the United States could bomb the country. So he decided to use 15 American hostages as human shields and placed them in places that the US government could bomb, grunge.com reports. Most, in fact, believed that this story would hardly have a happy ending.

Diplomatic efforts were not enough to free the hostages and Ali decided to intervene. Surprisingly, then-US President George W. Bush allowed the legendary boxer to be in Iraq and assist in the negotiations, with the media and diplomats openly criticizing the decision.

Mohamed Ali announced his retirement from boxing in 1981 and struggled with Parkinson’s syndrome for almost a decade when he traveled to Iraq, where he was also a huge celebrity. Despite the tension in the country, people were glad to see him. Ali also tried to learn more about the country by visiting schools and religious buildings. “The Iraqis were asking for his autograph, they wanted to stand next to him and talk to him; Ali never rejected anyone,” said Vernon Nord, who was then working at the US embassy in Iraq.

However, not everyone was thrilled with his presence. One of them was Saddam Hussein, who made Ali wait for days, even leaving him without Parkinson’s drugs, which had a significant impact on his health while he was in Iraq. One week later, he finally met with Hussein, who said “I will not allow Mohammed Ali to return to the United States without being accompanied by many Americans.”

When Ali’s plane landed at JFK Airport on December 2, 1990, the 15 hostages were with him. It probably saved their lives, grunge.com reports, as the Gulf War broke out a month later.

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