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“At first we didn’t believe him,” Mu’min told me, “then a second man came who had been in jail with my father. Then we believed him. We tried to find my father in Abu Ghraib. When we went there, the Americans said, ‘we don’t have anybody with that name.’ We went more than twenty times.”
Later that year, when the Americans destroyed Falluja in the effort to rout the anti-occupation resistance, thousands fled to Amriya. Some were former fighters who brought violence with them. Mu’min was washing his car one day when a masked man told him, “Go inside. We are going to attack the army.” Mu’min didn’t believe him, but soon heard the sound of a rocket-propelled grenade being launched and exploding on its target.
One night, more than two years after he disappeared, Mu’min’s father showed up. He was wearing his prison clothes. His hair had turned gray. He had trouble walking. He was thin; his skin was yellow and his lips were blue. In prison he had been in solitary confinement and was tortured with sleep deprivation, dogs, beatings. His ankle had been broken. His arms had been tied above his head, injuring his shoulders. His personality had changed. He would wake up at night screaming.
The next year Mu’min, too, was imprisoned, after he took his father’s gun and chased after some men who were stealing his car. An American patrol arrested him and accused him of being a terrorist. They put him in prison, beat him, and, three months later, released him.
Like many Iraqis, Mu’min and his family fled to Syria in 2006 at the height of the violence. When they returned to Amriya after a few months, al Qaeda men were occupying their house. The family went to live with an uncle nearby. At the time, former anti-occupation fighters, in cooperation with the Americans, were establishing an Awakening group in Amriya to fight al Qaeda. Over the mosque loud speakers, they urged anybody who wanted their home back to join their group. Mu’min and his father both joined. Mu’min was trained and stood guard in the neighborhood every day with an AK-47. Five months later, in 2007, the family got their house back. They found Shiite corpses inside and buried them. Mu’min dropped out of school.
I can’t go back to school after what happened to me, he explained. Now he does odd jobs and hangs out at the café every night, just one of another lost Iraqi generation.
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