Iraqis react angrily to murder of US citizen

English teacher Stephen Edward Troell was killed on Monday by unknown gunmen while driving through central Baghdad

A popular market in central Baghdad, Iraq. EPA
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A US English teacher who was shot dead in Baghdad on Monday, loved Iraq and local food while those who knew him say he will always be remembered for his modesty, charm and sense of humour.

In 2021, Stephen Edward Troell came to Iraq to work in a local English school, the Global English Institute, operated by the Texas aid group Millennium Relief and Development Services.

Mr Troell, a native of Tennessee, lived with his wife, who was the language school's manager, three daughters and a toddler son.

He was killed by unknown gunmen late on Monday while driving through the capital's bustling commercial district of Karrada, where he lived.

The news shocked Iraqis, especially those who had met him in person.

The teacher over the past two months visited a sales point for a mobile phone company in Baghdad where Mohammed Abdul Latif works.

“Once he was inside the store, he addressed us in Arabic. ‘How are you today guys? Are you going to give me gifts today? I love gifts’,” Mr Abdul Latif, 25, said.

He remembers how the employees used to gather around him as he cracked jokes.

Once, he shared with them his experience of taking part in the weeks-long mourning procession to commemorate the death of a revered Shiite imam.

“Then he distributed free cakes and drinks for pilgrims in the streets,” Mr Abdul Latif told The National.

“He had a wonderful personality. He loved Iraq and all Iraqis who knew him respected him,” he said.

“Once he told me that he didn’t feel himself as a stranger, but among his people and always said: ‘You are good people and I’m thinking of staying in Iraq and not going back to my country'."

Shortly after his death was announced, Iraqis turned to social media to vent their anger, sharing photos of Troell with his family in Baghdad.

One photo showed him and his wife standing on one of Baghdad’s old bridges over the Tigris and another at Al Mutanabbi Street, the historic book market and the centre of Baghdad's intellectual life.

In addition to photos, he was also seen in videos promoting the institute with his family members.

“The institute has been ruined and it will be dark after Mr Stephen,” a mother of two students told The National. Her two children, eight and 14 years old, studied English during the summer holidays.

“He was highly respected," she said. “He loved Iraq and Iraqis and served Iraq in a sincere way,” she said, recalling how he warmly received families at the institute.

"His absence is a great loss to all of us," she said.

“He loved the Iraqi dishes a lot and families always brought him food. Once, I saw timman and qeema,” she said, referring to rice with a thick stew of chickpeas and diced meat prepared during mourning periods.

“I can’t send my children again to the institution any more,” she said.

The targeting was a rare incident in Iraq, where security conditions in recent years have greatly improved.

Foreigners, some of whom live and work in Iraq or travel as tourists, are again seen in the streets or roaming archaeological sites after the long struggle against ISIS.

Iraqi authorities are investigating the incident, but have yet to announce any conclusions.

“Why do beautiful things get killed in Iraq?” the Iraqi mother said.

“Those who hate Iraq and want it to stay in chaos are behind the killing of Mr Stephen,” she said.

Government investigation

On Tuesday, Iraq’s Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani described the killing as a "cowardly crime".

"We do not want to anticipate events,” Mr Al Sudani said during his weekly press conference.

“The victim has been in Iraq since 2021 and the timing of this crime raises question marks," Mr Al Sudani said. He vowed to arrest the perpetrators.

“This issue is a red line for the government,” he said. “Those who want to test the government with the issue of security will fail in that attempt, God willing, because the security of Iraq is a red line," he said.

“Attacking foreign citizens is something that cannot be tolerated.”

The language school issued a statement on its Facebook page, bidding farewell to Troell, who “loved Iraq and its people and sought to serve it”.

Classes will be postponed for two weeks, it announced, but promised to continue “our message of teaching the English language and to spread love and peace for the sake of rebuilding our country”.

It quoted Troell: “I pray to God, the one, that my heart will die in Iraq.”

Updated: November 10, 2022, 5:50 AM