April 27, 1998
The U.N. Security Council is debating the Iraq sanctions issue today and so are Iraqi exiles in the United States. Jeffrey Kaye of KCET-Los Angeles reports on those exiles.
JEFFREY KAYE: The sounds and sights are of Iraq, transported some 7600 miles to a suburb of San Diego, California. In a local mosque on a recent Thursday Shiite Muslims came to evening prayers. In a nearby park Iraqi Kurds danced to ethnic music. The Kurds and Shiites are among the 31,000 opponents of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who since 1991 have been resettled in the United States as political refugees. In San Diego, most are clustered in the working class community of El Cajon. For many, it's a struggle to adapt. While some have found work in their professions, others must rely on government assistance or menial jobs. Adil and Nazefa Rasoul, who are currently living on welfare, say they had to flee Iraq. Back home, Adil was a civil engineer who worked for a U.S. relief organization building houses in the Northern City of Erbil.
ADIL RASOUL: (speaking through interpreter) The Iraqi government announced everybody working with foreign relief groups would be considered CIA agents and would be punished. That's why we were brought to the United States.
JEFFREY KAYE: The exodus of Iraqi refugees began soon after the Gulf War. In March 1991, western allies declared victory. Then President George Bush called for a popular uprising against Saddam Hussein. Kurdish rebels in Northern Iraq and Shiite Muslims in the South rose up, but Saddam's forces crushed the rebellions. More than a million refugees fled to border areas or left the country. Western allies established no-fly zones in North and South Iraq to keep Iraqi military aircraft away from opposition strongholds. In 1996, there was another flood of Kurdish refugees after Iraqi troops moved into the no-fly zone in Northern Iraq. Iraqi refugees now in the U.S. are united by tragedy, hatred of Saddam Hussein, and fear for their families left behind. And they hold mixed feelings towards the U.S.. Kamran and Iptisam Hussain, for example, are Kurds who were evacuated by the U.S. in October 1996. They are grateful that the U.S. gave them asylum.
KAMRAN HUSSAIN: We asked them to do that and help us and bring us out. If they don't, maybe now we are in jail, or we are killed.
JEFFREY KAYE: But they are also disappointed that the U.S. military didn't stop Saddam's troops.
IPTISAM HUSSAIN: If we had any problem, that's because we didn't get enough support from United States.
JEFFREY KAYE: But you're here.
IPTISAM HUSSAIN: I am here, yes, but that not my dream to be here. My dream to save Iraqi's people from Saddam Hussein--government.
JEFFREY KAYE: Shiites have similar feelings. Abdul Aljashaf and his wife, Iptisam, remember hearing President Bush's call to arms in 1991.
ABDUL ALJASHAF: When we rise against Saddam Hussein, he never, never helped. The United States force watched Saddam Hussein kill his people.
JEFFREY KAYE: Iraqis we interviewed agreed the only way to curtail Saddam Hussein's aggression and prevent him from using weapons of mass destruction is to remove him from power.
ADIL RASOUL: And you cannot get rid of the weapon with Saddam, but you can get rid of the weapon without Saddam.
JEFFREY KAYE: So you get rid of Saddam Hussein, you get rid of the weapons?
ADIL RASOUL: Yes.
JEFFREY KAYE: The Rasouls were both wounded during the Kurdish uprising after the Gulf War. Married in 1985, they led a middle class life, with Nazefa working as a math teacher and Adil in construction. Both have had family members killed by Saddam Hussein's regime, and both feel the U.S. could oust Saddam by better supporting a viable opposition.
NAZEFA RASOUL: (speaking through interpreter) The best way to remove Saddam is to support the opposition, provide heavy weapons to the Kurdish parties, and extend the no-fly zone, so Iraqi helicopters and planes cannot attack that area. That's the way to remove Saddam Hussein.
JEFFREY KAYE: That view echoes that of Ahmed Chalabi, president of the Iraqi National Congress, a coalition of Iraqi opposition groups funded by the U.S.. Testifying recently before Congress, Chalabi called on the U.S. to guarantee protected zones in the North and South, so his organization could establish a provisional government.
AHMED CHALABI, Iraqi National Congress: Give the Iraqi National Congress a base, protected from Saddam's tanks. Give us the temporary support we need to feed and house and care for the liberated population, and we will give you a free Iraq, an Iraq free of weapons of mass destruction and a free market Iraq.
JEFFREY KAYE: Kamran and Iptisam Hussain work for Chalabi's group, the Iraqi National Congress, and, like Chalabi, they believe that for the United Nations to negotiate and reach agreement with Saddam Hussein was a big mistake.
KAMRAN HUSSAIN: The agreement is--I don't think would be a good thing because Saddam, if he is still in power, there's always, there's problems. Maybe this problem's finished like this; next, we get next, next, next.
JEFFREY KAYE: Ali, a Shiite Muslim who fled after the 1991 uprising, agreed. He wouldn't give his full name for fear of reprisals against family members in Iraq.
ALI: There is no solution if Saddam Hussein stay in the power. So still we're going to have the same problem after three or four or six months, and we are going to keep doing that all the time, and like how you see, all the seven years, always Saddam Hussein, he always says he's the winner.
JEFFREY KAYE: But while some Iraqis talk about building a political opposition, others place more confidence in a surgical military strike. At an English class provided by the International Rescue Committee, a relief agency, Iraqi women learn survival skills for their new country. Women we spoke to were convinced there's only one effective means of dealing with the Iraqi strongman.
KARAMA AL-NIKELE: (speaking through interpreter) The snake can only be killed from the head and not from the tail. After the Gulf War, the United States did not go to Baghdad and kill the snake by its head. Go find where Saddam Hussein is, where he's located, and kill the snake by the head.
JEFFREY KAYE: Although U.S. law prohibits assassinations, many Iraqis say the U.S. should kill Saddam.
ALI: There is not--we do not negotiate with Saddam Hussein. What they need to do--just destroy Saddam Hussein and his group, but don't let Iraqi people suffer any longer.
JEFFREY KAYE: As we spoke to Ali outside the mosque, other members joined us to emphasize their belief that if the U.S. wanted to, it could easily force Saddam Hussein from power.
MAN: (speaking through interpreter) If America wants to get rid of Saddam, they can do it, just like they got rid of Noriega in Panama.
JEFFREY KAYE: And you think they should do exactly the same thing in Iraq and bring out Saddam Hussein, just like they brought out Noriega?
RESLAN ALZAYADI: (speaking through interpreter) That's the best way, but don't bomb Iraq, because Saddam will use human shields like before, and the Iraqi people will pay for that.
JEFFREY KAYE: But Kamran Hussain, who spent four years with the Iraqi opposition, said getting rid of Saddam is not so easy.
KAMRAN HUSSEIN: Kill Saddam Hussein, you know, there's more, more helps--or more tryers to do--to kill him--but nobody succeed to that. You know, he's very, very, very clever to keep himself safety, and he use all that peoples around him to make him safety. I think to kill him I think right now may be difficult.
JEFFREY KAYE: Besides the problem of removing Saddam is the question of replacing him. Some exiles fear that without a provisional government in place, chaos may follow his overthrow.
ADIL RASOUL: (speaking through interpreter) Assassination is a good idea, but there has to be somebody to replace him; otherwise, people are so frustrated and angry they're likely to fight each other, and there could be civil war.
JEFFREY KAYE: In the meantime, most refugees we met oppose the use of sanctions, saying they have hurt the Iraqi people, not their leaders. However, Mohamid Gozeh, a Kurdish engineer, says sanctions are keeping Saddam in check.
MOHAMID GOZEH: The sanctions--actually the contained--the politic of containing the government prove that it's a good one.
JEFFREY KAYE: Gozeh worked for a relief agency in Northern Iraq until he was forced to flee in 1996. He says he's looking forward to returning.
MOHAMID GOZEH: I wish to see an Iraqi democracy, a democratic Iraq, with an elected parliament and government, with total rights for the Kurdish people in the Northern part of Iraq, then I will go back.
JEFFREY KAYE: Most exiles who have left families and friends in Iraq say they also would prefer to return home than stay in the U.S..
HAIFA EL-ASADY: (speaking through interpreter) My country is dear to me, even though it has oppressed me and even though it doesn't care about me.
JEFFREY KAYE: In quoting the words of an Iraqi poet, Haifa El-Asady provided an emotional punctuation to a common sentiment. Iraqis told us that no matter how different they may be, ethically, politically, and religiously, they can all agree on one thing, the need to establish a democratic Iraq.