“Iraq will always be my country, but I am a different person now,” Sadiq, 31, said in an interview before the ceremony. “After all these years in America, my culture and principles are totally changed. My mind is open now. I live in a society where nobody cares about my color or race or religion. I believe in this country, and I don’t think I can live in Iraq ever again.”
Every immigrant who took the Oath of Allegiance on the lawn of George Washington’s iconic mansion Wednesday had a story to tell: The Vietnamese grandmother who waited years to join her children after the Communist takeover; the scarred but dignified war refugee from Ethiopia; the Guatemalan man who cleaned offices for 20 years and now has a wife, three children and his own cleaning company in Manassas.
“I love this country, and I feel God has blessed me,” said Pedro Lopez, 43, the business owner from Guatemala, who grinned broadly as he held up his citizenship certificate. His wife, Siomara, received hers at the same ceremony while their 16-month-old daughter slept in her pram.
“It has been a long time and a lot of work, but now I know my kids will have a good future,” he said.
Sadiq’s journey was unusually turbulent and uniquely intertwined with the U.S. military intervention in Iraq. Nearly a decade ago, he was one of hundreds of young and ambitious Iraqis who went to work for the army of Western journalists who followed U.S. troops into war. There were countless high-risk assignments; countless bombs that exploded too close; countless bodies in the streets.
In the spring of 2004, he recounted, the danger took a sharp and personal turn. Anti-Western militias began targeting anyone who worked for U.S. agencies, often accusing them of being spies. One of Sadiq’s Iraqi colleagues at Time was fatally shot a few feet outside its Baghdad bureau. A hurried decision was made to move the office and foreign correspondents to a hotel. Two days later, a BMW sedan tailed Sadiq while he was driving home from work.
“They followed all my turns. When I reached home, they jumped out with their faces covered, fired at the house and threw a grenade into the yard,” he said. “They yelled that I was a traitor. I was 23 years old. My family was terrified.”
Sadiq’s editors at Time sent armed guards in a Humvee to pick him up. The next day, they sent him to Jordan for safety and then on to Egypt for three months. The magazine offered to send his parents, too, but he said they refused to leave Iraq. Instead, they kept a low profile and avoided telling neighbors or friends where their son had gone.