May 19, 2006 -- I have been to Iraq nine times since the American invasion three years ago, for a total of about 10 solid months. (My wife is counting.) During that time, I have seen bombs and blood, I have seen rebuilding and restructuring, and I have seen death and democracy. So what have I heard? That's easy: Lionel Richie.
Grown Iraqi men get misty-eyed by the mere mention of his name. "I love Lionel Richie," they say. Iraqis who do not understand a word of English can sing an entire Lionel Richie song.
Watch the full report on "Nightline" tonight.
This is the same Lionel Richie who wrote "Say You, Say Me." This is the same Lionel Richie who is the father of some young woman named Nicole. Yes, that Lionel Richie. Could he really be an Iraqi icon?
I decided I had to investigate, and not just investigate, I decided I had to ask Lionel Richie himself. So I called him from Baghdad. Actually it was a formal interview. It was the first interview with Lionel Richie ever on the subject of Iraq and Iraqis.
I asked Richie if he knows just how big he is here. He said, "The answer is, I'm huge, huge in the Arab world. The answer as to why is, I don't have the slightest idea."
He has performed in Morocco, Dubai, Qatar and Libya. There is obviously something up there. The more we talked, the more he theorized as to the reasons his music might be so popular here. He thinks it is because of the simple message in his music: Love.
Richie says he was told Iraqis were playing "All Night Long," on the streets the night U.S. tanks rolled into the country in 2003.
When I told him his daughter wasn't nearly as big as he is here, he said, "I'll be sure to tell her that she needs to work harder."
Richie was no supporter of the war, but he says he could see a day when he would come and perform in Baghdad. I would love to be here for that. I have reported many stories here in Iraq, many of them sad, some inspiring, but none of them quite like this.