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SALT LAKE CITY -- Friends of an Iraqi interpreter who served with U.S. troops in the Iraq War are scrambling to raise thousands of dollars to send his body back to Baghdad for proper burial.
Diyar al-Bayati died in Salt Lake City last week, alone in his apartment, of unknown causes. He'd been living in Utah for several years -- the last stop in a long and winding road.
A group of suitcases sit in a corner of the apartment of Ali Al-Amri and his wife Janae. They contain the worldly possessions of their friend Diyar al-Bayati, a former Iraqi translator for the U.S. military.
"I'm sad because he's my friend," Ali said. "I work with him a couple of years."
Ali worked as Diyar's caretaker after Diyar arrived in the U.S. in 2008. Diyar lived in Baghdad, working as a translator with military contractor L-3/Titan.
He was frustrated that his service did not seem to afford the kind of respect and care that he expected of the U.S. government when he came here and he really wanted to go back to Iraq.
Disaster struck in 2006, as Matthew LaPlante, a former national security reporter for the Salt Lake Tribune, explained.
"He'd done 200 combat missions, rolled outside the wire with these guys 200 times and on the very last hour of his very last mission, a really large improvised explosive device, a roadside device, blew up under his Humvee," he said. "As the story goes, he continued firing at his attackers, basically until he passed out in a pool of his own blood."
Diyar lost both legs and one arm was mangled. He spent a year in a Jordan hospital.
Two years after the explosion, though his motorized wheelchair was destroyed en route, he arrived as a refugee in Salt Lake City, where his story attracted news coverage.
His friends describe him as strong-willed, optimistic and sociable. But his medical benefits, through the contractors insurance and Medicaid, left him frustrated, and he never got a pair of decent prosthetic legs.
"He was frustrated that his service did not seem to afford the kind of respect and care that he expected of the U.S. government when he came here and he really wanted to go back to Iraq," LaPlante said.
Now, friends are trying to fulfill Diyar's wish to be buried back home in Baghdad.
"I need from the people to try to help him to come to Iraq, that's all," Ali said. "Try to help him. I say please because nobody for him, nobody here. No his mom. No nothing."
They need to raise $15,000 to send his body back to his mother.
"We just want to get him back home to be with his mom," Ali said. "Let his mom know that we appreciated her son's work."
Diyar al-Bayati died just short of his 25th birthday.
To help raise the roughly $15,000 they need to send his body back to Iraq, friends have set up an account in his name at Wells Fargo Bank.