The Undercover Iraqi Asset 

An Iraqi double agent killed for America. But when he got left behind, a Marine stepped in

Wednesday, May 20 2009

 (Also read: "Seeking asylum and a better life, California's Iraqi refugees find themselves in limbo," by Hanna Inger Win. View photos in the "Iraqi Refugees in Limbo" slideshow.)


Faris Al-Baghdadi sits like a contented prince under a date palm in the sunny courtyard of his father’s home, which he calls the House of Books, and where he learned to love Western culture. He watches his infant son wobble to his feet. The boy grins at his mother, who kneels nearby. An instant later, the peace is broken by the sound of Metallica.

click to flip through (6) STAR FOREMAN

Related Stories

Al-Baghdadi awakes with a gasp, rolls over and turns off the alarm. The joy of that distant afternoon at the House of Books has vanished. In its place he finds a motel room and a deep, desperate sense of loss. His baby son, Medhi, died in a massive bombing many years ago. His wife, daughter and second son live 6,000 miles away. And Al-Baghdadi, once a valuable asset to American forces in Iraq, asks himself if he’s a hero — or a fool.

The answer will have to wait. Al-Baghdadi has less than an hour to get to his job at Camp Pendleton. There, he’ll spend the day teaching Marines what he learned as an officer with his countrymen in the Iraqi Specialized Special Forces and as a covert agent for American occupation forces. He admires the Marines and believes the leatherneck’s unofficial motto, “No better friend, no worse enemy.” For them, he will forget, at least for a few hours, his heartache and, some might say, his betrayal. He can never return to Iraq. And he may not be safe here in California.

Among all the Iraqis who aided American forces, few proved to be more valuable and fewer still risked as much as Faris Al-Baghdadi (his name has been changed by L.A. Weekly). From 1988 to 1998 he served in Saddam’s Air Force. Eventually, he was arrested, charged with disloyalty (trumped-up charges, he says), and tortured by Saddam’s military. Exiled to Iran in 1999, he returned to his native country after the 2003 American invasion. He worked as a translator and quickly impressed his American employers, who promoted him to lead a secret “special-ops squad,” a clandestine pro-American Special Forces team composed solely of Iraqis who sometimes masqueraded as insurgents or criminals.

But Al-Baghdadi suddenly lost his cover in 2005, when the U.S. pulled his funding and support. Two enemy assassination squads tried to kill Al-Baghdadi, military officials tell the Weekly, yet U.S. officials failed to cut through the red tape to help him flee Iraq, and refused him and his family the refuge of a permanent home in America.

It was his U.S. Marine comrades, acting entirely “on a volunteer basis,” who aided him, through a harrowing and dangerous escape from Iraq. He was left to his own devices by the U.S. Department of State, and his family ultimately found a safe haven not in the U.S. but in Sweden.

Still loyal to America — or, more accurately, loyal to what he now calls “the idea of America” — Al-Baghdadi kept offering his help, until the Marines invited him to train U.S. troops in California. Through the persistence of one USMC major, U.S. authorities realized Al-Baghdadi’s worth and allowed the “asset” — but not his family — to come here. Today, Al-Baghdadi, with his adopted tribe of warriors near San Diego, is Semper Fi and gung ho. But during off-hours, often spent on weekends with friends in Los Angeles, he rages with disillusion and loss.

U.S. officials confirm Al-Baghdadi’s story and agree that he represents much of what is wrong with America’s handling of “foreign national assets” from Iraq. His leading U.S. Army Special Forces mentor, who asked not to be named for security reasons, says, “Al-Baghdadi always got the mission done for us by going anywhere, regardless of how dangerous it was for him to get the information we needed.” Al-Baghdadi narrowly missed being killed by two exploding IEDs and “joked about how working for me was dangerous to his health,” the mentor notes.

Al-Baghdadi’ story suggests that official bungling and indifference damaged U.S. efforts in Iraq and now threaten to break a man who did everything, including killing countrymen, because he believed in American-style democracy.

Today, when not spending his off-duty days in the San Fernando Valley, where he has a favorite spot — the White Harte Pub — and a growing circle of friends, Al-Baghdadi sleeps with the lights on in a motel room within walking distance of Camp Pendleton. On the wall above his bed hang an Iraqi flag, a Swedish flag and a noticeably smaller American flag. On the opposite wall is an erasable bulletin board on which the words are written: “Free in a motel room” and “I don’t need your golden egg.” His laptop and three cell phones are close at hand. He has a television, a microwave, a toaster oven and a comfortable bed, all amenities he never dreamed of during his exile years living in an Iranian refugee camp, before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Still, there is a certain shabbiness to the room — not because it is run-down or dirty but because it reeks of loneliness.

Related Content

Now Trending

  • Sexual Predator Is Targeting Females in Eastside Park

    A sexual predator is on the loose in an Eastside park, police warned today. Cops say the creep has targeted "lone females" walking in Ernest E. Debs Regional Park three times between January and July. He has groped, exposed himself and even attacked with a knife, the Los Angeles Police...
  • U.S. Reps Call For Federal Intervention in Dodger TV Blackout

    A group of local U.S. representatives wants the Federal Communications Commission to help end Time Warner Cable's blackout of Dodger games for competing cable and satellite providers. Negotiations to bring the team's games to AT&T U-verse, Charter Communications, Cox Communications, DirecTV, Dish Network, Mediacom, Suddenlink Communications and Verizon FIOS have gotten...
  • Foster the People's Downtown L.A. Mural Is Coming Down

    The controversial Foster the People mural downtown is coming down, the office of L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti announced today. Despite claims by the pop band that it had necessary permits and that the artwork was legitimately produced, the mayor's office states what we reported previously: The piece is on a...
Los Angeles Concert Tickets


  • Street League Skateboarding Super Crown World Championship
    On Sunday, Street League Skateboarding touched down in the Galen Center at USC as part of a four-stop tour for SLS's Super Crown World Championship. The L.A. stop determined the roster for Super Crown, airing August 24th on FOX Sports 1. The final eight are Nyjah Huston, Luan Oliveira, Torey Pudwill, Shane O'Neill, Paul Rodriguez, Chaz Ortiz, Matt Berger and Ishod Wair. All photos by Nanette Gonzales.
  • Comic-Con's "Celebrity" Autograph Area
    A sometimes overlooked (but still incredibly unique) aspect of San Diego Comic-Con are the celebs available to sign autographs, as well as the autograph seekers themselves. If you've ever wanted to meet the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld or the guy who played Michelangelo in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, chances are, as you wander the Autograph Area, you'll be able to connect with someone you didn't even realize you were waiting your whole life to meet! All photos by Rob Inderrieden.
  • Real Madrid Soccer Practice at UCLA
    Fans came out to greet world champion soccer team Real Madrid as they practice at UCLA. This is the first time that soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo has practiced with the team this year. All photos by Jeff Cowan.