Story transcripts

Forbidden love

Sunday, May 16, 2004
Reporter: Scott Pelley
Producer: Shawn Efran, CBS 60 Minutes II

Now, what should have been a public relations coup for the Americans. A love story in the midst of war - a romance between a soldier and his Iraqi bride. One small victory in the battle for Iraqi hearts and minds, you'd think.

But no. The US military went in boots and all and did everything it could to break up the marriage.

But, as Scott Pelley reports there was one thing the army didn't consider ... that old adage, love conquers all.


SCOTT PELLEY: It's 6am in Baghdad and Ehdaa Blackwell struggles into a bullet-proof vest.

EHDAA BLACKWELL: I can't move. It's too heavy. It's really heavy.

SCOTT PELLEY: She is filled with hope for a new future, even as she waves goodbye to everything she has ever known. She's making a run of 300 miles through the dangers of the Sunni triangle, trying to reach her new American husband that the army ordered out of her life.

EHDAA BLACKWELL: Sometimes you just fall in love and you don't know why. It's our fate. I think we're meant to be together and oh my God, that's the thing that I've been waiting for. I just can't wait to see him.

SCOTT PELLEY: Halfway around the world in Pensacola, Florida, Sean Blackwell heads for the airport. It's been six months since he slipped a ring on Ehdaa's finger back in the war zone and he hasn't seen her since.

SEAN BLACKWELL: It's something I can't even describe. It's like the first time to Disney World. You know, you get really excited before the actual trip, you know. Except I know she's not going to let me down like Disney World did once I actually got there.

EHDAA BLACKWELL: When I realise this is not a dream, I think I'm going to look in his eyes the same way I looked the first time and the same way I look the time when I fall in love with him.

SCOTT PELLEY: The dream is to bring together two lives which couldn't be more different. She grew up wealthy in a country at war. He grew up peacefully working-class in Florida. For her, medical school. For him, the family tradition, following his father and six uncles into the military. Shortly after the fall of Baghdad, it was Sergeant Blackwell's turn at something his family knows all too well. Blackwell landed in one of those places where the tension was greatest, Baghdad's biggest hospital. But one day, amid the chaos, in walked a young Iraqi doctor.

SEAN BLACKWELL: To be honest, when I first met her, I was like, you know, she's very attractive but, you know, what's the point of trying to start a relationship over here?

EHDAA BLACKWELL: I saw a tall, shy, handsome man who had the most beautiful eyes I have ever saw.

SEAN BLACKWELL: And when we talked, she would start to come and visit and we just started learning more about each other and it didn't take long for, you know, emotional attachment to grow there.

EHDAA BLACKWELL: He's so honest. He's so kind and when he comes, my heart starts beating as I am a teenager.

SCOTT PELLEY: After three months of war zone dating, Sergeant Blackwell pulled the trigger. It was in keeping, of course, with the local tradition, where a marriage proposal is a question man to man.

When you went to Ehdaa's brother and asked him for her hand as an American soldier who'd just invaded his country, what did he say?

SEAN BLACKWELL: "I'd be honoured if you'd marry my sister."

SCOTT PELLEY: But under local law, a Muslim woman can only marry a Muslim man. So Blackwell stood before an Iraqi judge and, in Arabic, said these words.

SEAN BLACKWELL: "There's only one God, that's God and Mohammed is the messenger of God."

SCOTT PELLEY: And that's it?

SEAN BLACKWELL: And that's ... you're a Muslim.

SCOTT PELLEY: A conversion of convenience, not conviction. The couple was ready to say "I do" when Blackwell's commanding officer said, "No you don't." There was no regulation against marriage, but the battalion commander worried that it would be a dangerous distraction, so he ordered Blackwell not to get married.

SEAN BLACKWELL: We were brought together by some higher force than ourselves and it was meant to be and I wasn't going to let anybody stop that.

SCOTT PELLEY: On a sizzling August morning, he went out on patrol with a small team. The soldiers responded to a rocket attack, but on the way back to base, the patrol made an unauthorised detour to a restaurant. Two soldiers took up sentry posts outside. Blackwell went into the courtyard where Ehdaa was waiting with her family, a judge and a pair of rings. (People speak in Arabic)

SCOTT PELLEY: Kiss the bride?

SEAN BLACKWELL: Only on the forehead.

SCOTT PELLEY: And you haven't seen her since?

SEAN BLACKWELL: No, not in person, no.

SCOTT PELLEY: He hasn't seen her because it wasn't long before the battalion commander found out. Blackwell was exiled to Baghdad Island in the Tigris River. Then in December, he was shipped home ahead of his unit. The battalion commander said that he couldn't trust Blackwell's judgment and didn't want him around.

EHDAA BLACKWELL: Sometimes I keep crying. Sometimes I say that I must be strong for him. I can't let them win. The love must win in the end.

SCOTT PELLEY: And in a sense it did. Blackwell left the military with an honourable discharge. Which brings us to the second chapter in the Blackwell saga. Six months after his wedding, civilian Blackwell said goodbye to his mother in Pensacola and headed back towards the war zone he just left. Ehdaa, escorted by her little brother, sped past the battlefields of Fallujah and Ramadi. We gave the newlyweds a ride to the rendezvous on the border between Iraq and Jordan.

EHDAA BLACKWELL: I think my heart is going to jump across the border, go right to him.

SCOTT PELLEY: Even then, there was no guarantee Ehdaa would make it out of Iraq. She didn't have a passport because Saddam didn't let doctors leave the country. He was just over the border in Jordan with our camera crew. Back at the crossing, guards searched Ehdaa's car three times. She spent three hours going nowhere when the improbable happened. One of the guards recognised her from an article he read about an Iraqi woman who married an American soldier.

EHDAA BLACKWELL: He said that, "I know you, I know exactly who you are. You'll be surprised that lots of Jordanian people know that you are the one." Oh, God. I haven't seen him before in civilian clothes. I still love that uniform. I'm going to have a heart attack now. (Laughs) Five more minutes. How do I look? Oh, God, a mirror, I need a mirror. Oh, God, my heart. I can't breathe. Oh, my God. That's him. That's him. I'm not going to talk now. I'm going to forget English. I forget the English. Oh, I missed you.

SEAN BLACKWELL: I've missed you too, baby.

EHDAA BLACKWELL: Oh. You are real.

SEAN BLACKWELL: Yeah. Mmm. I love you.


SEAN BLACKWELL: I love you. You know that.

SCOTT PELLEY: You must have said to yourself, "I can't be falling in love with an American soldier."

EHDAA BLACKWELL: Exactly. I start thinking, "That's really impossible, what we are doing. I'm Muslim and he's Christian, I'm Iraqi and he's American, it just can't happen."

SCOTT PELLEY: But it did. It did. Oh, love can make miracles. I do believe in this now.

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