Sadi Othman

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Sadi Othman is Senior Special Advisor to GEN David Petraeus, commander of United States Central Command. He was born, in Brazil, to Palestinian parents, and raised in Jordan, where the 6'7" Othman "the first person ever to dunk a basketball in a Jordanian university competition."[1]

He emigrated to the United States, becoming a citizen in 1977, and graduating from Hesston College, a Mennonite school, in 1993.[2] He worked in various low-level jobs before the 9-11 Attacks, responding to them "As an Arab-American from the Arab tradition, I felt humiliated that those who carried out the attack were Muslim. I wanted to do something...and a friend told me that the American military was looking for linguists and cultural advisers."[3]

Leaving his family in New York City, he became Petraeus' translator when Petraeus commanded the 101st Airborne Division, where he demonstrated a talent for communicating with all sides of the complex culture in Mosul. He had become a pacifist in college and did not abandon his principles; he said he feels more Mennonite than Sunni, and reconciles advising a top general with "I am here for peace, not war." [4] After Petraeus ended his command tour, Othman worked for his successor, but when Petraeus returned to lead Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq, Petraeus personally flew to Mosul to get him. He has stayed with Petraeus through each of his assignments; Petraeus is not good at the traditional long Arab conversation while Othman excels at it.

Asked about Othman's contributions, the first words from Rafa al-Essawi, a Sunni Arab and a Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq, were “Sadi Othman was a friend to the Iraqis....Sadi was brave and very helpful in our Iraqi reconstruction efforts during a very difficult period.”[2] Petraeus' deputy in Mosul, MG Frank Helmick, said "The top leaders trust him, and a lot of military guys get their credibility with the Iraqis from Sadi." Petraeus used Othman as a conduit to relieve tensions and allow face-saving advice to be given.[3] After he interpreted for U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Congressman John Murtha, to Prime Minister of Iraq Nouri al-Maliki, without Petraeus in the meeting, in what he termed "very tough" confrontations, Maliki turned to him afterwards and said "Now I know what President Bush is going through." [4]

Another deputy prime minister, Barham Salih, a Kurd, said “Sadi is unique. He understood Iraqi culture and politics. He became the indispensable channel between Iraqi and the U.S. military on many difficult issues. It was clear that he genuinely cared about Iraq, and he developed an amazing network of personal relations with Iraqi leaders across the political divide. There was no protocol when it came to Sadi. From the Prime Minister down, all would answer his phone calls directly—often late at night.” U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates commended him, " “Your vast cultural knowledge and adept diplomatic skills have been invaluable to our senior leaders, and your untiring efforts have been an integral factor in the remarkable security, and political and diplomatic gains achieved during this period. You have been an indispensable resource for leaders in Iraq and the U.S. [who] have benefited greatly from your wise counsel. Many leaders—myself included—have relied on your precise translation and key situational awareness during critical exchanges with Iraqi and other foreign leaders.”[2]

In the regional command role, Petraeus regards Othman as a key adviser for dealing with 20 countries, above all, Iran. "Sadi Othman and Crocker aide Ali Khedery will be based in Dubai at a new forward office to help promote an alliance of Sunni states, both to stabilize Iraq and to counter Iran’s moves in the region."[5]

Other senior commanders have found it valuable to have nonmilitary advisers. Petraeus' operational commander for Iraq, GEN Ray Odierno, obtains a civilian-oriented view from Emma Sky.


  1. Thomas Ricks (May 2009), E-Notes: Understanding the Surge in Iraq and What’s Ahead, Foreign Policy Research Institute
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Dave Osborne (Spring 2009), "Sadi Othman praised by leaders of Iraq and the U.S.", Hesston College Today
  3. 3.0 3.1 Linda Robinson (2007), Tell Me How This Ends: General David Petraeus and the Search for a Way out of Iraq, Public Affairs, ISBN 9781586485283,pp. 175-176
  4. 4.0 4.1 Thomas Ricks (2009), THE GAMBLE: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008, Penguin, ISBN 987-1594201974, pp. 143-144
  5. Linda Robinson (September 2008), "What Petraeus Understands", Foreign Policy