In Atlanta, Ahmed Ali is living the American Dream.

Each morning he leaves the house long before his two young children have awakened, goes to a job that pays him just enough to remain in debt and returns home late at night hoping for less bad news from Baghdad, where he was born.

For all this, Ali feels exceedingly grateful, not to say lucky.

“My daughter just passed from first grade to second, and my wife just got her driver’s permit,” Ali told me in a telephone interview. “And last week they were talking about giving me a full-time job.”

Ali, 35, spent most of the early years of this decade as a “fixer” for British and American journalists covering the Iraq war, first in Baghdad and then, after his brother-in-law was murdered by Shia militiamen, in Damascus. He worked as a translator, putting himself in grave danger by setting up interviews for reporters and helping to get the words of Iraqis into the newspapers and magazines.

He is, indeed, a hero of British journalist Oliver Poole’s new book, “Red Zone: Five Bloody Years in Baghdad” (Reportage Press, October 2008), not only facilitating meetings but opening his home to reporters so they could get a first-hand look at the quotidian life quickly disappearing in the wake of the invasion.

Fear of Retribution

Ahmed Ali is not his real name, which he has temporarily given up. He fears retribution by the militias against members of his family still living in Iraq. He also doesn’t pretend that being in America now necessarily offers any protection.

“Al-Qaeda is a network, and the insurgents are capable of striking anywhere,” he said.

With the help of the International Rescue Committee, the PEN American Center and other human rights organizations, Ali and his family were relocated to Atlanta in December. Loans and occasional translating work got him through the first months in America, but neither his refugee status nor the jeopardy he had put himself in back home automatically earned him a job.

While waiting for word from the Cable News Network to provide him with an unpaid internship, he recently was hired by Refugee Resettlement & Immigration of Atlanta. Ali works there with Iraqi families arriving from Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

I point out what seems obvious — that, necessary and valuable as this may be, it’s not the job he covets. In our previous conversations, Ali had spoken poignantly about his love of English and of earning a degree in literature.

Not Journalism

“No, it’s not journalism,” he said. “But sometimes you have to do something not related to your field in order to survive. CNN would train me, but would take three or four months — and meantime my family would be starving.”

The people he works with now, he said, are, like him, victims of violence who find themselves struggling with the same challenges he has faced in a new country.

“They are engineers, students. Once they get here, I pick them up from the airport and help them, they are all families, deal with the government.

“So it’s better than nothing,” he said.

Ali’s own transition to American alien was not without its terrifying moments. Despite the support he had from such recognized journalists as Poole and New Yorker magazine reporter George Packer, Ali has had to prove he wasn’t himself tied to the violence.

Who Do You Know?

“I feel very concerned here,” he said. “America is a huge country. Americans feel guilty about what has happened in Iraq. They try to save souls, but it’s very difficult to judge people here. They still want to know if I knew anyone in the militias.”

A dream that began with Ali’s father, who built a comfortably middle-class life for his large family before seeing it all turn to dust beginning in the 1990s, seems just out of reach. Full-time employment should help stave off Ali’s very real fear of poverty, of not being able to support his family.

For now, his good nature and a weirdly fatalistic optimism get him through from one day to the next as he waits and plans and waits some more to see where the next turn in his life journey will take him.

When I asked Ali about the November election, his answer was that of a dreamer, not pragmatist.

“Every time I call my family, they ask, ‘Who will win?’ I pray it will be Obama,” he said. Fearing war again with Iran — the one that ran from 1980 to 1988 cost over 1 million lives — some of his countrymen are wary of a Democratic victory, Ali said. They sense that Obama would be hesitant to intervene.

“Iran’s presence is very strong,” he said. “I believe Obama won’t attack Iran, but I still would rather have him in the White House. I call Obama my promising angel. He might bring change.”