BAGHDAD – When the U.S. government put up the money for a new TV network in Iraq in early 2004, one of its first recruits was Mahmoud Fouad, 35, who was assigned to cover security.

Fouad soon found himself attracting stares from strangers in the streets, attention that was unnerving at a time when the Sunni insurgency was gathering pace. Threats forced him to flee his home, and his parents were ordered by gunmen to disown him, for fear of their lives.

One of the places where his face must have been recognized was Amariyah, a neighborhood built for Baathist officers that became a bedrock of the insurgency. Fouad’s fiancee lived there, and he regularly visited her.

On July 17, gunmen pulled alongside his fiancee’s car as she drove through the neighborhood and opened fire. She was killed instantly, and her brother, riding with her, was paralyzed.

Fouad’s world fell apart. He says he couldn’t work for two months. Though he could not conclusively link his fiancee’s death to his job, he blamed himself, as did her family.

When he returned to work, it was with a feverish new energy and a complete lack of fear. He traveled unembedded into the heart of al-Qaida in Iraq territory, where anyone working for the media risked death – and especially those associated with the U.S.

In April 2006 came an epiphany.

He had gone to the mosque of a prominent Shiite legislator for an interview, an assignment that shouldn’t have been particularly dangerous. As he waited, four suicide bombers detonated vests packed with ball bearings among the throngs of worshipers arriving for Friday prayers.

Fouad says he was saved only by the crush of people who had fled in panic from the first bomb.

“People who had been standing next to me alive only seconds ago were on the ground dead. My clothes were soaked in blood, other people’s blood. I saw death pass before my eyes,” he recalled.

The same day, he resolved again to marry.

He also stopped taking unnecessary risks. He now spends as much time covering politics as bombings or assassinations.

One of his assignments took him to the Foreign Ministry, where he met a talented young diplomat who shares his consuming interest in the issues facing Iraq.

Last week they married. They’ve started a new life in one of Baghdad’s safest neighborhoods – but Fouad still gets stares when he goes to the grocery store.

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