Saif Al Saedi grew up in a family of seven children in Baghdad. He was 16 years old when U.S. forces invaded the capital city and 17 when, in 2004, he got a job providing security for U.S. troops in Ramadi, the focus of Al Qaeda activity at the time.
Over the next 10 years, Al Saedi’s work would take on increasing responsibility and danger. His first promotion had him managing Iraqi guards in American camps, protecting U.S. military VIPs and Special Forces. Later he was escorting supply trucks from the border, and guarding U.S. embassy personnel in Baghdad. It became impossible to remain unknown.
One day insurgents threw a shell into his father’s home with a note attached: Your son will be killed if he doesn’t stop helping Americans. That week, six Iraqi contractors were hanged from town streetlights. Al Saedi moved every few months, cut off contact with family, lied to his new wife about the danger. “I was getting tired,” he says. “I thought, I’m going to get caught soon.”
In 2013, Al Saedi applied for an expedited U.S. visa for Iraqis in peril for having assisted U.S. personnel. Knowing no one, he requested that he, his wife, and baby be relocated to a small city with jobs and good schools. “The thing is,” he says. “I didn’t know about the snow.”
Five years later, Al Saedi is well-acclimated to Madison. He works maintenance 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, then spends evenings being cleaner, maintenance guy, manager, “and friend” to tenants of the 16 apartments he owns. “When they have a problem, I always make sure they get along. I don’t like people hating neighbors,” he says. Saturdays and Sundays he works 7 a.m. to 10 p.m as a caregiver to a man with brain damage.
Trust me, I love it. I am so glad I’m paying back.
He wants to provide a good life in Madison, in the United States, for his three daughters, and to pay back the country that has offered him such opportunity. Most people grumble when the tax man calls, he says. “Trust me, I love it. I am so glad I’m paying back.”