Hopes and Fears: Iraqi-American Reaction to Liberated Baghdad
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ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Iraqi Americans clustered around the television in this Chicago Iraqi owned restaurant, hardly believing what they were seeing as Saddam Hussein’s statue fell to the ground..
ARMAND NASSRY: A mixture of disbelief and total joy watching history like an historic moment. It felt like a thousand-pound rock just lifted off my chest. It’s like that statue was standing on my head, that was my nightmare, and it’s gone and the people in Baghdad. Now I feel like these people who took the statue down, nobody fired on them, their families are not going to be hurt. Now I feel like I’m safe. Even in Chicago, I feel like I’m safer now.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Armand Nassry was also excited the day before when he picked up the New York Times and saw the picture of an Iraqi American he knew. Khuder al-Emiri, who had volunteered to fight with U.S. forces, was being welcomed back to his hometown in Iraq.
ARMAND NASSRY: He’s the guy who really had the greatest day of his life.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Nassry had fought along with Khuder al-Emiri in the 1991 uprising. He had thought long and hard about returning with the U.S. sponsored Iraqi freedom forces to fight again. Instead, he agreed to run his brother’s limousine company. His brother, who we talked to in October, had returned to Iraq to aid U.S. Forces. Does it make you wish you had gone back?
ARMAND NASSRY: Yes. Yeah, yeah. He brought to them a new life, he brought to them liberation, freedom.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Nassery had not been able to reach his family in Nasiriyah for over a week. He was still worried about their safety as he reflected back on what the 21 days of watching the war had been like for him.
ARMAND NASSRY: I don’t want to work, I don’t want to talk to anybody, I don’t want to leave the living room. I just want to stay by the TV. I did not want to do anything. And it’s like… when it first started, it was a mixed feeling of fear, uncertainty, hope, and somehow joy, like it’s happening. Finally after all this talk, after this 12 years, or 25 years of this waiting, it’s happening. Now it’s happening, you know, now it’s happening.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: There are 60,000 Iraqi Americans in the Chicago-land area. For some, watching the end of the Saddam Hussein regime brought back memories of the fall of previous dictatorships.
GEORGES DHINKA: This remind me of the communists when that fell down. After 72 years they fell down and now everyone feels free. You can do whatever you want to do, you can think about whatever you want to think. But before it wasn’t like this, you can’t say nothing, you can’t talk nothing, you’re afraid, you’re afraid of your shadow.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Georges Dinkha was concerned about the pictures of Iraqis looting.
GEORGES DHINKA: It’s bad when this is on TV, when they steal, this puts Iraqi people down, this shows Iraqis very hungry. That means they are under big pressure before, now they feel they’re free, that’s why they do everything what they want to do. But this is not right when you steal from your country.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Others found the scenes understandable.
AQIL RAMAHY: Let them do whatever they feel. This is a good day, a great day for them. Let them destroy all the country, we will build it again, no problem.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: And Aqil Ramahy is ready to return to help with that rebuilding.
AQIL RAMAHY: Now Saddam Hussein is gone and this day has come and I want to go to Iraq. And I will go back, I’m so happy today.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: There was one image that disturbed many who were watching. Badel Shamon says he shuddered when he saw the American flag over Saddam Hussein’s face, even though it was quickly replaced with an Iraqi flag.
BADAL SHAMON: This is not the right way, you know, because people in other countries, other Arab countries, they going to think Americans want to take Iraq. But after that, if you see, they changed it from American flag to the Iraqi flag.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Better?
BADAL SHAMON: Of course better. That’s our country, you know.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Many like Ghassan Shuber and his family were concerned about the transition of power from U.S. And coalition forces to the Iraqi people.
GHASSAN SHUBER: I really want to see a smooth transition into the leadership. The leadership, of course, has to be changed, but a smooth transition from inside the country, people who can have a government for a while, six months to a year, that we will be able to have an election or whatever. But the main important thing is to keep the country united from the north to the south and not to have different parties, different rulers, that’s the main thing.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: So amidst the joy there was great concern among these Iraqi Americans about what lay ahead for their homeland.