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Hopes and Fears: Iraqi-Americans Talk About Iraq

Elizabeth Brackett talks with Iraqi-Americans about their thoughts on the future of Iraq.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    The Iraqi Americans story as told by Elizabeth Brackett of WTTW-Chicago.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    In Chicago cafes where Iraqi-Americans gather, in the grocery stores that sell foods from the Middle East, in places Iraqi Americans work, the talk is still very much about the war. By and large, the Iraqi Americans we talked to are grateful for American intervention, but are very concerned about the situation in their homeland now. That was the feeling of these two sisters, who left Iraq when they were young girls and have now become successful hairdressers.

  • MARYAM KHNANISHO:

    The situation's pretty bad right now, but at least they're free from Saddam's regime, this is why we're happy about it. So hopefully it will get better, and they'll be safe.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    The reaction was the same in this Iraqi-American owned grocery store.

  • WARDA KHNANISHO:

    Right now I'm very, very delighted, very happy that there was a cancer, there was a dictator, and that dictator is not any more there. I am very happy and people they will breathe again.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    But Iraqi Americans who gather regularly in this cafe say the current situation in Iraq has begun to undermine Iraqis' newfound sense of freedom.

  • JASIM ILIMTORI:

    It's just really getting out of control. If I could put it in an analogy would be a car driving the highway with no driver. So no governments, no systems, and the lawlessness and the disarray is all over the country, and somebody needs to do something about it.

  • RAHMAN MANAHI:

    The major reason is because of the poor planning. You cannot expect that people who have been oppressed for 35 years who have nothing and suddenly and finally the regime is gone, it's been removed. It's like Stalin's gone or Hitler's gone, and you know there's no food and no law. I mean, what do you expect them to do?

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    Aiham Alsammarae pores over plans for electrical grids. He has spent the last year working with the State Department and other Iraqi exiles to try and prevent the chaos that now seems to be engulfing much of Iraq. The president of an electrical engineering consulting company with projects around the world, Alsammarae was on his way to Iraq the day we spoke to him. His mission was to try and help restore the country's electricity, a much bigger task than he had projected it to be before the war.

  • AIHAM ALSAMMARAE:

    I thought that Saddam Hussein will collapse in more they call it systematic way. So the government would stay intact, but Saddam would get out with his whatever fellows and we catch them, and the American army would go in and control everything. This was the scenario that didn't happen.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    That lack of any government structure plus the widespread looting has made Alsammarae's job much harder than it has been in other war torn countries.

  • AIHAM ALSAMMARARE:

    We did it in Kosovo in 48 hours, we put it back. 48 hours, Kosovo has electricity. It is not understandable when you have 100… three days ago it was almost 120 degrees in Baghdad the temperature, 120. And this is like Phoenix, you are in Phoenix, you see that the tar is melting. In Baghdad, the tar is the same thing. So you can't live in the homes without air condition for God's sakes, so the people get crazy.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    And it is the inability to control the craziness and provide security in the streets that has made the problem of restoring electricity so difficult, says Alsammarrae.

  • AIHAM ALSAMMARARE:

    If we don't have security we don't have a business, we don't have electricity, we don't have water, we don't have anything.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    This serene painting by Iraqi Kamal hardly reflects his feelings at the moment. Forced into the Iraqi army in the 1990s, he was made to paint endless portraits of Saddam Hussein, an assignment he hated. Though he remains vehemently against the Hussein regime, he saw the Iraq war as an invasion of his country, not its liberation, and he predicts the violence against American troops will only get worse.

  • KAMAL:

    I think that the Iraqis, they are going to go against the American. They want them to be out. They need to find a new government as quick as possible and to leave the country and let Iraqi control their own country, not by army controlling the country.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    And if the Americans don't leave?

  • KAMAL:

    There's going to be a lot of trouble, there's going to be a lot of fights. It seems like a larger Palestine, that's what it seems.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    Iraqi American Asaad Ali is not as pessimistic, but he, too, is concerned. In this country for only four years, he stays close to his homeland by continuing to enjoy the foods of Iraq. A nuclear physicist, he was a senior researcher at Iraq's nuclear facility in Tuwaitha, a facility that is now guarded by U.S. troops after extensive looting. He left Iraq in 1997, after refusing to work on developing weapons grade plutonium for Hussein. He says Iraq did not have a nuclear bomb when he left, though he says Hussein clearly had the capability to easily produce chemical and biological weapons– though Ali says Iraqis never saw Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction as the justification to go to war.

  • ASAAD ALI:

    Ousting of Saddam Hussein is enough justification for me to go to war. Just for that and if I were in Bush shoe, I wouldn't claim anything else. No al-Qaida link, no WMD, just this is a dictator. And if you want weapons of mass destruction, so you don't need to go further than Saddam Hussein because he killed 750,000 live people. He buried them, what weapon can kill more than that?

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    Assyrian Iraqis are the largest Iraqi exile group in the Chicago area, though back in Iraq, the Assyrian orthodox Christians are one of the smaller minority groups. Generally, the Assyrians remain very supportive of U.S. policies in Iraq. The Assyrian American National Federation had sent its past president Sargon Lewe to Iraq just after Baghdad fell to assess the condition of Assyrians there.

  • SARGON LEWE:

    I think Iraqi we tell them 30, 40 year you wait. You could wait another six month and you going to when they going to put everything in order? Like electricity and oil and gas and work and job, I believe American they're doing the right thing.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    Personally Lewe was thrilled to be reunited first with his brother and then with other family members he hadn't seen in 27 years.

  • SARGON LEWE:

    I don't believe whole life we sit together and we drink, we eat there. We remember all those times. I thank God for America. Not only for my family. Million of Iraqi families the same thing

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    Assyrian American travel agency owner, Minas Gorgius is hoping things will settle down enough in Iraq to begin sending both Iraqis and tourists there again.

  • MINAS GORGUIS:

    We were hoping that it would be in the summer, but the way it looks maybe it will be in fall. Sometime in the fall we will have our first group.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    But there is much to be done in Iraq before tourists start flying into Baghdad, and Aihem Alsammarre says it is the next three months that will be critical.

  • AIHEM ALSAMMARRE:

    The majority of the Iraqis in this time they still think they are liberators. If you don't meet the requirements which you came and announced before, all the Iraqi's will be against the United States and Britain, in no time, this is given. But now we are still okay, and still have excellent chance to build a good society in Iraq and leave the country as it is.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    The Iraqi American community in Chicago, will be closely monitoring that ongoing process in Iraq.