Alaa Mohammad did his best to stick it out. A Sunni living in a predominantly Shi'a neighborhood in Baghdad, he believed the relationships he had formed with his neighbors over the years would help keep his family safe.
Then the Mahdi Army killed his brother. And then they came for him.
"I was beaten with cables," Mohammad remembered. "They struck my wife in the stomach with a rifle."
A neighbor had turned on him, telling the violent Shi'a militia group that he was danger to the community. "I knew then that it was time to leave," he said.
Mohammad was one of about 150 Iraqi refugees who gathered in the officer's club Wednesday evening at Camp Williams with members of the Utah National Guard in an attempt to build relationships and provide new avenues of support for the often struggling community of newcomers.
Mohammad said he is grateful to be in the United States. And though he is struggling financially, he has no desire to return. "I'll do whatever I can to stay," he said.
But others have concluded that there is no future for them here. Since arriving in Utah, more than a dozen Iraqis -- disappointed by the support system they found in America and often struggling to find work in a bad economy -- have returned to their war-torn nation or other countries in the Middle East.
A recent report by the International Rescue Committee shows that the experiences of Iraqis in Utah is not unique. It describes families that have been settled across the country that are facing eviction, unable to find work and in need of medical help.
"We've just got to do better than that," said Jeff Burton, who led a Utah National Guard unit in Iraq in 2004 and said he now feels responsible for helping those who have made their way to America as refugees. "The bottom line is that these people have sacrificed something for us. And we must do what we can for them."
While Iraq is significantly less violent right now than it was at the time that many of the refugees left, some believe that Tuesday's withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraqi cities -- and a full withdrawal planned for 2010 -- will spark a new round of sectarian fighting, including the tit-for-tat murder sprees that marred the nation from 2005 to 2007.
"People are going to start fighting again," said Niaz Rashid, who arrived in Utah last month. "It is certain."
Perhaps ominously, The Associated Press noted a spike in violent civilian deaths in Iraq in June -- at least 447 died as insurgents targeted markets and crowded streets.
Burton said he hoped that introducing the newcomers to local citizens will help them feel connected here until such a time as they can decide to stay in Utah or return to a truly peaceful Iraq.
To that end, he said, the Wednesday barbecue was "just a start -- a chance to shake hands and exchange phone numbers." The next steps, he said, are unclear, though he would like to do something to help the newcomers find work -- a difficult challenge in the current economic climate.
The meeting also provided an opportunity for the refugees -- who are scattered across the Wasatch Front -- to meet one another. While many of the Iraqis at the meeting are very new to Utah, some have been here for more than a decade -- having come during the mid-1990s when the U.S. opened its doors to thousands of Kurds who were fleeing the persecution of Saddam Hussein.
"We can help, too," said Abdul Karim, who came to Utah in 1996. "When we got here, it was very tough. We had no papers. We had not work. We understand what it is like."
Karim said that he is telling his Iraqi friends to stick it out.
"It will get better in time," he said.