By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Al-Baghdadi believes his loneliness is punishment for the suffering he has caused his family. He doesn’t believe he can ever be happy. As a nonpracticing Muslim, he senses the contempt of his more religious Islamic co-workers at Camp Pendleton. Still, he has no regrets.
He lives in a world not unlike the post–Vietnam War era. Americans are stressed over the recession, and doubly unhappy to be reminded of a war many view as wrong, unnecessary and costly. No one spits on American soldiers back from Iraq. But that may not hold for Iraqis in America. Al-Baghdadi has felt the resentment of people who somehow blame him for the dire economic conditions facing the U.S.
As the focus of the War on Terror shifts to Afghanistan under President Obama, Al-Baghdadi wonders how long his newfound stability can last. “I am no longer Iraqi,” he says. “I’m not Swedish. I’m not American. I have three Social Security numbers.” He always carries his important documents, in case he must depart quickly. “Everything,” he says, “is variable around me.”
A few months ago, Douglas Vose, Jason’s father, succumbed to the cancer he had battled for years. Al-Baghdadi kept vigil in the hospital room with the Vose family. When the old Marine died, just before Christmas, Al-Baghdadi felt as if he had lost his second father, saying, “He counseled me as a tribal elder would in my country. I loved him.”
When the Los Angeles firestorm blazed across the Chatsworth and Sylmar hills last year, not far from where Al-Baghdadi was visiting new American friends, the sky turned black, and a sense of doom settled on him. “This is like rain for me,” he says. “There are no Tomahawks, no gunfire, no loud screams of the frightened, dying people. Nothing to say my life is in danger. But it reminds me of the more than 40 days of Black Rain that fell on Baghdad. The raining of soot. It reminds me of ...”
He shakes his head but does not finish his thought.
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