Activist slain in Iraq ‘was an idealist’
On their first date, Michael Hastings and Andrea Parhamovich met for milkshakes.
Fifteen months later, she followed him to Iraq.
Hastings hoped they would spend their lives together.
But on Wednesday, Parhamovich died in a hail of bullets, ambushed outside a Sunni Arab political office in Baghdad.
Sunni Muslim insurgents linked to Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility Thursday for the attack that took the lives of the 28-year-old and three bodyguards -- a Hungarian, a Croat and an Iraqi. Two other security workers were wounded. None of these other victims’ names had been released.
“She was an idealist,” Hastings said of Parhamovich, who grew up in Perry, Ohio. “She always believed that people were good. Certainly, those ideals were put to the test when she came to Iraq.”
Parhamovich, known as Andi, followed heart and ideals when she came to Baghdad. Hastings, a reporter with Newsweek, was working in Iraq. But Parhamovich was also drawn to political work in Baghdad, teaching Iraqis about voting and how to establish a functional government.
She worked first for the International Republican Institute, joining the National Democratic Institute a few months later.
On Wednesday, Parhamovich had gone to meet a group of Sunni politicians from the Iraqi Islamic Party. “She was really excited about the meeting,” Hastings said.
The party headquarters is in Yarmouk, a west Baghdad neighborhood where shootings and executions are common.
After Parhamovich conducted her training seminar for the Sunni politicians, she left in a convoy with her armed guards. Moments later, the convoy was ambushed. The guards fought back but were outgunned by the attackers, whose arsenal included grenades.
“With God’s assistance, we have succeeded in the destruction of two SUV vehicles belonging to the Zionist Mossad, killing all who were in them, attacking them by light and medium weapons,” wrote the group that took responsibility, in a statement on a well-known Sunni insurgent website.
The group often refers to its targets as members of Israel’s intelligence service.
But in fact, Hastings said, “they killed a wonderful, unarmed girl.”
After graduating from Marietta College in Ohio, Parhamovich worked in the Massachusetts governor’s office. In 2005, she got a job doing fundraising and publicity for Air America.
“Working for a liberal radio network wasn’t enough,” said Jamie Horn, who worked with Parhamovich at Air America. “She had to go to the heart of the war and create change and understanding. She was so obstinate in her efforts to create change. Nothing could stop her.”
Parhamovich met Hastings when he came to interview Jerry Springer, who was on an Air America show in New York. Unknown to him, Parhamovich had warned Springer not to say anything outrageous to Hastings.
“It was the most boring Jerry Springer interview in history,” Hastings recalled. But an e-mail exchange about the story led to that first date -- diner milkshakes.
“I considered it a date; she considered it just business,” said Hastings, who at the time was about to leave for Iraq for the first time. When he mentioned his impending trip to the war-torn country, she was “totally unimpressed by it, and mocked me.”
He did not mind, he said.
“She was beautiful,” he said. “Funny. Intuitive. Really brilliant. And a bit of a nut.”
Hastings got a permanent posting to Newsweek’s Baghdad bureau late last summer, and by September, Parhamovich had left her job and come to Iraq.
The National Democratic Institute is one of the few nongovernmental groups still working in Iraq. The staff lives outside the heavily fortified Green Zone, home to the U.S. Embassy and the Iraqi government, often traveling around the capital to run seminars and workshops.
“They did not see themselves as heroes, only people doing a job on behalf of a cause they believed in,” the institute’s chairwoman, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, said in a statement referring to all four killed in the attack.
“They were not the enemies of anyone in Iraq; they were there to help.”
Although the couple lived in the same city, they could see each other only occasionally. Work, checkpoints and curfews would get in the way.
But Parhamovich thrived, hitting the ground running, Hastings and several of her friends say. “She wanted to be here, at the center of things, helping people,” Hastings said. “She was fearless.”
Joe Zampini, Parhamovich’s brother-in-law, said in Perry that she viewed her work “as a challenge and quite an honor to help the Iraqis.”
“She knew that Michael was there in Iraq, and I think she used this as an opportunity to learn more,” said Zampini, who is married to Parhamovich’s older sister, Marcy. “Her goal was really to go into politics.”
The family released a statement that said in part: “Andi’s desire to help strangers in such a dangerous environment thousands of miles away might be difficult for others to understand, but to us, it epitomized Andi’s natural curiosity and unwavering commitment. She was passionate, bold and caring.”
After spending a few months in Baghdad, Parhamovich went back to the U.S. but returned at Christmas. The couple spoke on the phone about future plans, including a long trip to Europe, Hastings said.
“We had -- I have still -- reservations at the Four Seasons in Paris on Valentine’s Day.”
Hastings had recently picked out two possible wedding rings. Ever since the milkshakes, he said, he had known he wanted to spend his life with Andi.
“She is pure at heart,” he said, bringing her to life -- momentarily -- in the present tense.