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Controversy Still Surrounds Highly-Publicized Rescue of Former US Soldier Lynch - 2003-11-13

Seven months after she was rescued from Iraq, there continues to be controversy over exactly what happened to U.S. Army private Jessica Lynch while she was held prisoner of war by Iraqi forces as well as details of what led to her rescue. The 20-year old former Army supply clerk is the subject of a made for television movie here in the United States and an account of her ordeal has just hit the bookstores.

Private Lynch, the U.S. military and the Iraqi she says she owes a debt of gratitude to for helping rescue her, all seem to have different versions of exactly what happened.

Eleven American soldiers were killed when Iraqi forces and fedayeen fighters ambushed Jessica Lynch's Army convoy in the city of Nasiriyah three days after the war began in March. Private Lynch survived and was held captive until American Marines rescued her from an Iraqi military hospital nine days later.

Beyond that though, many of the facts about what happened to the woman from West Virginia during those nine days, and exactly what took place during the American rescue mission, differ.

"People would make up stories that they had no truth about," she said. In a round of television interviews to promote her book recounting her ordeal, Private Lynch takes issue with how U.S. military officials initially described her rescue, telling NBC's 'Today' show the Pentagon deliberately exaggerated its version of events.

"In a way, I think it gave troops over there hope that there is still a war worth fighting for," she said. "My weapon jammed and I'm not about to take credit for something someone else heroically did. I'm not about to take credit for that."

The Pentagon has denied over dramatizing what actually happened and says the attack on Jessica Lynch's convoy remains under investigation.

One of the people Private Lynch does consider a hero though is Mohammed al-Rehaief, an Iraqi lawyer who learned from his wife, a nurse, that the American was in danger and told him where she was being held. In his just-published version of events, he tells how he managed to get past hospital guards by claiming he was a doctor and then seeing Private Lynch's Iraqi captors slap her around.

"Believe me, when I saw that, I can't forget about what I saw. What I saw changed my life," he said.

Private Lynch says she has no memory of being physically abused and was unconscious for periods. In addition, medical records cited in her just published book suggest she was also raped while in the hands of the Iraqis. But she now says she has no recollection of that, either.

Iraqi lawyer Mohammed al-Rehaief has now been granted asylum in the United States and is still fearing Saddam Hussein loyalists are out to get him for what he did.

"They (burned) my father's house. If they reach me or reach my family, they will kill us because of what I did," he said.

He recently went to Jessica Lynch's hometown of Palestine, West Virginia to meet with the woman he helped rescue. But Private Lynch could not see him, because she was too busy, according to a family spokesman.

"I want to do it on my own time when there is no media around, just to privately thank him," she said.