Former ICC head killed in Iraq

May 26, 2009 4:31:35 PM PDT
Terry Barnich, the former chairman of the Illinois Commerce Commission, has been killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq. He was there helping rebuild the country's infrastructure.The blast also killed an American soldier and a civilian contractor working for the Defense Department.

Terry Barnich was well known and very well liked in state politics. Friends and family say he went to Iraq out of a sense of obligation to the U.S. and the people of Iraq.

Terry Barnich had a quite remarkable life's resume for his 56 years. He was general counsel to Gov. Jim Thompson back in the 1980s. Later, he was chairman of the Illinois Commerce Commission. He was a business entrepreneur who was an idealist, but also a pragmatist. He was not a soldier, but saw - as part of his life's mission - improving life in Iraq.

"He always felt there was something pushing him that he had to do, and even though I said, Terry please don't go over there, he said, Mom, I've got to go, I've got to go," said Genevieve Barnich-Katel, mother.

So Terry Barnich went to Iraq in early 2007 as a deputy director for the State Department's Iraq Transition Assistance office. In simple terms, his job was to help build Iraq's infrastructure, mainly its electricity generation. He knew a lot about that having served as head of the Illinois Commerce Commission in the early 1990s.

"He was not content to be a bureaucrat, not content to simply be in businesses, not content to live an ordinary life, and when this extraordinary opportunity came along, he took it," said Jim Thompson, former governor.

Barnich was to stay in Iraq for a year, but decided to stay longer because he saw progress.

"Overtime, it became a more deeply held belief in the mission and frankly a growing fondness for the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government officials he worked with," said Phillip O'Connor, friend.

Phil O'Connor- another former Illinois Commerce Commission chairman - also worked in Iraq with Barnich. On Tuesday, he mourns the death of his long-time friend. Terry Barnich and two others were killed on Monday when their convoy hit a roadside bomb outside Fallujah. No one knows if the IED was meant for the convoy or randomly planted.

His friends say Barnich knew the risks, but felt the rewards made the mission essential.

"I think he was in the tradition of the American citizen who drops everything, and when there's a time of trouble they go," said O'Connor.

Barnich was a prolific writer with a sometimes irreverent sense of humor, but his messages to friends and family back home carried his heartfelt desire to make a difference.

"Yes, I think so, of course, I'm his mother, but I think he made a difference in everybody he met," said Barnich-Katel.

Barnich was coming home from Iraq next month for his sister's wedding, and his plans were to stay here and return to his business.

While Iraq remains volatile, consider what Phil O'Connor tells ABC7 as one measure of progress in rebuilding. During the first week of this month, nearly 60 percent more electricity was generated in Iraq than during the same week last year.


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