American Iraqis Fear Civil War in Their Homeland Country
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ELIZABETH BRACKETT, NewsHour Correspondent: In the cafes where Iraqi exiles gather in Chicago, the mood is somber. These are the same cafes where cheers went up three years ago when the U.S. invasion began. Now that joy has been replaced by concern.
SHAMUEL KHOSHABA, Iraqi Exile: It look like there will be a civil war, but I wish it won’t be; it’d be dangerous to all of us. Everybody’s worried, even me. Like, my cousins — I have a cousin. I’ve got friends there, as we worry about them.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Many Iraqi-Americans are fearful of civil war. Unlike three years ago, many in the community were afraid to appear on camera, and others we’d talked to before had returned to their homeland.
Iraqi-American Aiham Alsammarae has firsthand experience with the increasing violence in Iraq. A Chicago-area businessman and a secular Sunni, Alsammarae served as minister of electricity in Iraq for the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority interim government.
Alsammarae spends the majority of his time in Iraq and nearly lost his life in an assassination attempt in February.
AIHAM ALSAMMARAE, Former Minister of Electricity, Iraq: And we run away, my car with two of my guards, and the cars got hit, three of mine seriously injured. And the other car protecting them, and took them to the hospital. One of them still has no face.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Alsammarae says he has worked hard to bring democracy to Iraq over the past three years, but the latest assassination attempt has left him questioning Bush administration priorities.
AIHAM ALSAMMARAE: This country, it needs, first, security. It doesn’t need democracy. You know, this is our problem in how we think in Washington. We like to make a democracy in a country that has no security. There’s no such thing.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Without adequate security, Alsammarae says Iraq is engaged in what he calls a controlled civil war, but he says it’s not a war between Sunnis and Shia.
AIHAM ALSAMMARAE: The politicians are using that one just for the sake of their benefit in the election, so they are telling Shia are getting hurt, and over the years, now is the to go, all of you, for one block and choose those guys. So the politician getting the benefit of that. There is no Sunni or Shia problem in Iraq.
GUITY NASHAT, University of Illinois at Chicago: Twenty thousand workers will be working on the canal, 24 hours a day.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Iraqi-born Professor Guity Nashat, a secular Shia, tries to put the violence in today’s Iraq in context in her History of the Middle East course at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Out of the classroom, she, too, is discouraged by what she sees in Iraq.
GUITY NASHAT: My main feeling is really worry, because three years ago I didn’t have this kind of worry. I was very excited that they got rid of Saddam Hussein and things seemed much more promising. And today, I feel Iraq is on the verge of possible civil war, and it makes me very sad.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Nashat fears that a civil war would involve not just Iraq, but the entire region.
GUITY NASHAT: The Saudis will come in to help the Sunnis; the Syrians will come in to help the Sunnis; Iran will come in to help the Shiites; Turkey will claim it needs to come and protect either the Turkmen, and they’re already worried about the Kurds becoming an independent state. So I think many of these surrounding countries will become involved, and who knows where that would lead?
DR. AMIR TURAYHI, Iraqi-American: Are you eating well?
PATIENT: Not too well, but…
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Physician Amir Turayhi has been in the United States for almost 30 years. A secular Shia, he is a distant relative of Grand Ayatollah Sistani. He is more optimistic about Iraq.
DR. AMIR TURAYHI: If you look at the big pictures, there are a lot of negative things coming from Iraq, especially the media, which loves the negative issues.
I think, overall, it’s a big change from totalitarian regime to full openness, and there’s weak government from the Iraqi side. There’s a chaos; I mean, we cannot deny it.
Is it better three years or worse? I think it’s better. If you look at the whole picture, things — at least, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and I’m a big believer that things will get better.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: With the violence continuing in Iraq, none of the Iraqi-Americans we spoke to in Chicago wanted U.S. troops to leave any time soon.
DR. AMIR TURAYHI: I don’t think they should leave Iraq. I think it’s the biggest mistake if they leave Iraq. I will tell George Bush, I look at him in the eye, I said, “You broke it; you have to fix it.”
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: But at the same time, many like Professor Nashat are uncomfortable with the role the U.S. might play in the political future of Iraq.
GUITY NASHAT: I don’t want the Americans to play a leading role, because it will cast a shadow of doubt and collaboration on any government that will come to power in Iraq. And I think that would be bad, because that’s what really contributes to instability.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: So the debate continues among Chicago Iraqis in the classrooms and in the cafes, just as it does in the rest of the country.