By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Ultimately, Al-Baghdadi says, he joined “the Dirty Squad” — a secret Iraqi counterterrorism force under the Iraqi Special Operations Force — which utilized violent tactics characterized as “unauthorized.” Speaking to the Weekly with tears welling, he acknowledges that some innocent people died during these actions. “They say a soldier should never look back. It was war. Still, one day I will tell about what I did that was wrong.”
His unauthorized operations with the Dirty Squad — whose existence has been confirmed by CBS News and others — led to his undoing in Iraq. His activities and his personal network of informants and men loyal only to him angered his Iraqi superiors and rivals in Iraqi counterintelligence. Resentment grew over his rogue methods and his ties to the Americans.
Al-Baghdadi, in turn, mistrusted the Iraqi Special Operations Force chain of command, riddled with corrupt members and double agents helping the insurgents. Some Iraqi Special Ops Forces officers answered first to their Shia or Sunni allegiances, some had tribal loyalties, and others were after cash paid by all kinds of insurgents for intelligence used to hurt U.S. operations.
Ultimately, Al-Baghdadi was betrayed by his countrymen. A 2007 Rand Corporation Report clearly lays out the corruption. In May 2005, Al-Baghdadi was relieved of his command, stripped of his weapons and given notice to remove his family from the safety of the Green Zone. The dismissal made vague references to his conduct as a major in Saddam’s Air Force, and his fitness based on his post-torture mental state — charges Al-Baghdadi says were nonsense.
Almost immediately, he says, two assassination attempts were made on his life. One day, on the treacherous highway to Baghdad International Airport, he was forced off the road by a black Opal filled with gunmen, and struck three times in the chest by bullets. But, his U.S. Special Forces sergeant and mentor recently told the Weekly, “Luckily he was wearing the [bulletproof] vest we gave him. He then returned fire and drove them off ... after all, he survived three other attempts on his life.”
He turned to his American friends to get his family out of Baghdad but discovered there was no procedure to quickly grant asylum to Iraqi assets. Glowing recommendations from American military commanders he had worked for made no difference to the U.S. State Department.
It began to sink in: American bureaucrats had no comprehension of the warrior code that demands no man be left behind. Al-Baghdadi’s greatest fear was not death. It was that he would be captured by terrorists and beheaded, and the video sent to his wife — a common punishment for “slaves of the infidels” — or that his family would meet that same, horrible fate.
Facing orders to leave the Green Zone, Al-Baghdadi began devising his family’s escape. He sold everything they owned and acquired forged travel documents, as he hoped to flee to Amman, Jordan, and then to America.
The most harrowing aspect of his and his family’s journey was the dangerous six miles of road to Baghdad International Airport — the most dangerous, some say, in the world. Al-Baghdadi knew he was being watched, and there was only one man he knew he could rely on, but his friend Jason Vose was on assignment in western Iraq. Al-Baghdadi recalls his urgent phone call to Vose: “I am telling you, man, we need to get the hell out of the country, I am fucking trapped here, hiding my ass like a cowering rat in my apartment — no weapon, and they may come any minute!”
Vose tells the Weekly he responded, in disbelief, “Who are they?”
Once he got the picture, Vose says, within hours he had arranged for an escort of Humvees to accompany Al-Baghdadi’s car to his departing flight. The unofficial escort was manned by U.S. Marines — volunteers. “I owe Jason my life — and the lives of my family,” Al-Baghdadi says with unabashed emotion.
Now–Major Vose says simply, “Much of what he accredits elsewhere is due to his own will and amazing character.”
Safe with his wife and daughter in Jordan in July 2005, Al-Baghdadi contacted the American Embassy there to apply for asylum, presenting a letter written by Vose, dated July 22, 2005, which read: “I beg any coalition authority or member of the U.S. State Department, American Embassy Country Team or Central Intelligence Agency ... to assist Major Al-Baghdadi to be granted asylum. ... What this man has done ... can never be measured or repaid.”
Instead, Vose explains, “The attitude was, ‘The State Department doesn’t work for the military.’ Bureaucrats and politicians who sit in air-conditioned offices and who have never shed their blood will fall back on irrelevant procedures.”
There simply were no fast-track procedures to bring endangered Iraqi allies to America, a situation belatedly addressed by the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act of 2007.
Al-Baghdadi applied to about 30 countries for asylum; Poland, England, the Baltic States, Belarus and Ecuador all rejected his appeal. In Jordan, he turned to human smugglers and began a dangerous five-month trek with his wife and daughter through Syria, Turkey, Moscow and Zurich — finally flying to Sweden, one of the few non–Middle Eastern countries that accepted Iraqi immigrants.