Anwar Abbas Lafta (CBS/AP)
I remember talking to him about fear. I asked him if he was ever scared that someone would come for him.
"No, everybody knows me here," he said. "Everybody knows what I do."
I was shocked when he told me he didn’t hide his job from his friends and his neighbors. Iraqis who work with foreign journalists are often accused of being spies. Sometimes they're just kidnapped for the money they make. He didn’t hide his job as a U.S. military translator prior to his position at CBS either, he said.
"They’ll find out anyway, why lie?" he once told me.
He had a way of convincing people that they needed to tell their story, he gained their respect easily. In his neighborhood he strutted around and everyone knew exactly who he was. He spoke fast and loud, in a way that made you think, this guy must know what he’s talking about. It’s probably why he was able to get people to talk on camera in Iraq, not a small feat in a nation rife with fear.
There was one time that a militia member confronted him in a coffee shop, he told me. But the man backed down when he saw Anwar's pistol. He carried it just in case they came for him, he said.
Earlier this week 'they' did. Armed gunmen in bulletproof vests knocked on his door. His brother answered and was greeted with a hit from the butt of a rifle and they went for Anwar, according to Lara Logan CBS News chief foreign correspondent.
He fought, Logan wrote, but they got him into the unmarked white land cruiser anyway. His brother ran after them shooting and the kidnappers shot his sister in the arm, Logan wrote.
"The group of about eight armed men wore body armor and went straight for Anwar. There was no doubt, his relatives have said, that he was the reason they came to that door, of that house, on that night.
But Anwar was not a man to go quietly. And like every Iraqi, he knows what it means when a death squad comes for you. So he reached for his weapon and tried to put up a fight, but in the delicate words used to mask a more brutal truth, 'they overwhelmed him,'" Logan wrote.
Jenan, my friend and Iraqi colleague, came to me the next morning. "Anwar was kidnapped," she said.
We went downstairs to get coffee and I tried to calm Jenan down. He was one of her closest friends and constantly called her and visited us when he could. She has such a beautiful innocence about her, but slowly with this job, her naiveté is leaving her.
"He's Anwar," she told me. "I know he'll be ok."
I nodded mutely. There was nothing I could say. Anwar always tried to protect Jenan. He softened the blows of this place, but he wasn't here to protect her from this.
Last night I called her at home to ask a question. But before the words came out of my mouth she blurted out, "Anwar is dead."
The last time they talked she told me how much they'd laughed. Anwar had a way of making light of the worst situations. He jokingly told her he wouldn't call again. It was the last time they spoke, somehow he knew.
"I was so happy," she cried. For a while all I heard were gasps and sobs on the other end of the phone. "Now he's in the morgue."
Earlier this year he guided Jenan and I through his neighborhood. He laughed at my hesitancy to speak English in the street.
"What are you afraid of?" he asked. "This is my neighborhood. I did a piece for CBS on the safest neighborhood in Baghdad right here."
His confidence put me at ease and I laughed. He had a way of making you feel safe.
But the sobs on the other end of the phone line told me this time he couldn’t save himself. First the kidnappers had asked for $150,000 from the family and then lowered the price to $60,000. Yesterday his cousin found his body in the morgue.
"He's just a number now," Jenan wailed into the phone. "I think they killed him right away."
Anwar was a single man who put every dollar of his earnings at CBS toward his family. He supported his four brothers, his sister and his mother. Jenan wondered if this is why he was taken. Maybe they thought he had money, she said.
She's still looking for an explanation. But she knows there isn't one. Every day Iraqis die here for no good reason, hundreds of thousands have already been killed; more will die tonight and tomorrow and the next day. So many we will never be able to name, so many we will not be able to grieve.
Today as I tried to comfort Jenan it seemed that all I had were clichés, he's in a better place now and God rest his soul. They seemed so hollow, nothing could fill the hole.
"Why?" she sobbed, putting her face in her hands. "Why only in Iraq we say he's lucky because he doesn’t have to see tomorrow. He was very kind and they deleted his story with one bullet."
I can't imagine the emptiness in the CBS bureau without him. Logan has a beautiful tribute to him here. All I can say to Anwar is thank you. Thank you for telling the story of your nation, for your honesty and courage. All I can say to Anwar is I’m sorry. I’m sorry that it cost you your life. I’m so sorry.
But it's too late. Anwar is gone.