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From Baghdad to Doraville 

An Iraqi refugee finds safety in America

Page 3 of 4

One year, the Iraqis were waiting for the Americans for something to be done – electricity, water, rebuilding. Iraqis saw nothing.

I was dreaming of getting rid of Saddam, but now if you ask me, I would rather live under his dictatorship. At least he was able to provide security. When my first child was born [before the U.S. invasion], I was able to take her mom to the hospital. When my [second child] was born, you have to plan the drive four days in advance – not to be driving under curfew – otherwise you're going to be killed by the Americans or the Iraqi police.

In 2003 after the collapse of Saddam's government, Ali began to work for a major European newspaper – first as an interpreter and office manager, then as a bylined correspondent using a pseudonym. He reported from areas that Western reporters could not safely visit. It was during this period that Ali became a target – first because he was Sunni, but eventually for his reporting.

If you ride in the wrong time in the area, then you will be killed. The police are full of members of the Shiite political parties. When you get stopped by the checkpoint, they will ask you for your ID. If you are Sunni and you got stopped by Shiite, you're going to be killed. And vice versa. Two of my cousins were killed because they were Sunnis.

My friend who is Sunni got stopped at a Sunni checkpoint. He had a fake Shiite ID. For $10, you can get a fake citizenship card. He got treated very badly until they were totally convinced he was a Sunni. It's really scary. If it's your day to be dead, then that's it.

In 2006, Ali says he was threatened in-person by a member of the government over a story that was published by the European newspaper he worked for. Even though Ali didn't write the story, it was perceived as critical of the government and he was viewed as a representative of the paper. Shortly afterward, he says, Shiite militias began to hunt him personally.

I couldn't believe it. I called [the government official] back. He said, "Yeah, there is democracy in Iraq, but you need to be really careful."

The insurgents came to my house, so I moved very far away and rented a room. I was pretending to be a taxi driver; I could not say I was a journalist or translator.

Again they came to my house and they killed the son of the owner of the house on my doorstep. It happened in July. I went back to my parents' house, and moved my wife and kids to Syria.

Ali left his family in Damascus, Syria, and returned to Baghdad to work. He was covering Saddam Hussein's trial in September 2006 when his wife's brother was kidnapped by insurgents.

I received [a] call from my family saying they couldn't get through to him. A week after, I got a call from the kidnappers from my brother-in-law's mobile phone.

I wanted to introduce myself to the person talking on the phone, but he knew my name. I told him we would sell everything we have to pay ransom, but he said they didn't want money. I told him it's not my brother-in-law's fault I work with the press, but he cut off the line.

We didn't find his body yet.

I had already lost two cousins. When I lost my brother-in-law, that is why I decided to leave. I said to myself, excuse my language, Iraq is fucked up, that's it.

During the trial, Ali fled to Damascus for safety. Saddam Hussein was found guilty and sentenced to death. He was hanged in December 2006.

He means nothing to me. The trial was all a joke and theater, to be honest. The decision had already been taken that he would be executed. It was a big shame for Iraqis. It was the first day of Eid al-Adha [an important Muslim holiday]. According to Islam, you're not allowed to kill anybody on the first day of Eid. It was a big insult for all Muslims in general and all Iraqis in specific. They could have put it off for two or three days, and not published the video.

After his brother-in-law's kidnapping, Ali rejoined his family in Syria. Syria's government doesn't allow Iraqis to work, so he quickly depleted his savings. With the help of American and European journalists he'd worked with, Ali and his family were allowed to move to the United States legally as refugees. He moved to Doraville in December.

I was highly recommended to come to the U.S., but it took more than a year. The process is very slow. They have a right, to be honest. They don't know who I am. It's true I am working for the press, but maybe I have a different ideology.

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