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Looking Homeward

Elizabeth Brackett of WTTW Chicago talks to a group of Iraqis living in the United States about their feelings toward the Iraq war and their concerns over how to restore peace and stability to the war-torn country.

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  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    Sounds of Shiite Muslims at prayer could be heard over the cacophony of noontime traffic in Chicago. The Shiites, many of them Iraqis, were observing Ashoura, the solemn mourning ritual that commemorates the death of the grandson of the prophet Muhammad more than 1,300 years ago. It was at the Ashoura observances in Iraq where bombs ripped through mosques in Baghdad and Karbala, leaving close to 200 dead.

    In cafes frequented by Iraqis, the violence was seen again and again on the Arabic al-Jazeera Television Channel. Theories as to who might be behind the violence were plentiful.

  • MAN IN CAFE:

    I think al-Qaida.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    Al-Qaida.

  • MAN IN CAFE:

    Yeah.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    Why do you think that?

  • MAN IN CAFE:

    Oh, because I think the Iraqis, they don't bomb themselves. They haven't had that situation before. We have bombings, yeah, but we don't have like suicide bombings. This is a professional for al-Qaida.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    The cafe's owner, Aziz Benjamin, was just back from six months in Iraq, where he acted as an interpreter for the Army's First Armored Division, stationed at the airport in Baghdad. He returned shortly after the birth of his new baby daughter. He fears the latest violence in Iraq could lead to civil war.

  • AZIZ BENJAMIN:

    It's very complicated, all this. You know, I don't know how to put it, but the religious fundamentalist groups that everyone's taking it upon themselves and trying to do, you know, take over the country, which is… that's the worst thing that's happened right now. So there's a lot of small groups that… they think, you know, the country belongs to them. And not given the chance, you know, for the people all to unite and build the country, that's a problem.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    Kasem Almusawi, a devout Shiite Muslim, doesn't think religious differences will seriously divide Iraq.

  • KASEM ALMUSAWI:

    There is no possibility for civil war. Our people understand… mostly majority of people of Iraqi are Muslims, and most of them are Shiites, and there are leadership there. These people really understand the case and what's going on in the country. And people, they have so many followers, lots of followers, and they listen to them, and they take their words. And the leaders, especially the Shiite ones, they are preventing that of happening.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    But Almusawi, like many we talked to in the cafes and on the street, blames U.S. forces for not creating a safe environment in Iraq.

  • KASEM ALMUSAWI:

    They are responsible for keeping the place safe. Now, when you invade or occupy a country, you want to provide peace to that area, to that country. And they're there, and they know the events going on, they know how many people will be visiting these cities. A tremendous amount of people will be going there on this day. They should have provided a more… you know, safer area.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    When we spoke with artist Kamil Yass nine months ago, he wanted U.S. troops out of Iraq, and he is even more adamant about it today. His self-portrait reveals some of the turmoil he has been through. Yass is one of ten children. He left in Iraq in 1991, but remained close to his father, until tragedy struck last July.

  • KAMIL YASS:

    My dad passed away. He got killed.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    How?

  • KAMIL YASS:

    Iraqis, a couple of Iraqis, they invade the house, and they shot him in the head.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    Why?

  • KAMIL YASS:

    They were looking for money, food, and he got killed.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    Who did you blame for that?

  • KAMIL YASS:

    American soldiers.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    Why? They didn't actually kill him.

  • KAMIL YASS:

    Well, they should establish a new government. Otherwise it won't happen. If they have a new government in Iraq, then nothing would happen like this. My dad will still (be) alive, and I will probably see him after 13 years.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    The printing press at Iraqi American Sheba Mando's shop turns out a slick magazine in three languages: English, Arabic and Aramaic, the ancient language of Assyrian and Caldian Christians.

    Caldo-Assyrians are the largest Iraqi exile group in the Chicago area, though now they make up only about three to four percent of Iraq's population. By and large, Caldo-Assyrians have remained very supportive of Bush administration policies in Iraq. Mando would like to see U.S. troops stay in Iraq indefinitely.

  • SHEBA MANDO:

    Iraqi people, they are fully supportive for American troop, for allied troop, and Iraq to build the new foundation, the good foundation of democracy, and to build Iraq again as freedom as Iraq democracy, as Iraq belong to all people of Iraqi citizen.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    One of the former top scientists in Iraq's nuclear research program, Asaad Ali now works on nuclear safety issues in American and Canadian nuclear power plants. He left Iraq in 1997 after refusing to work on developing weapons-grade plutonium for Saddam Hussein. He likes what he sees developing in Iraq, and does not think violence will break out when American administrator Paul Bremer leaves Iraq in July.

  • ASSAD ALI:

    Well, I think there is a safety key. The American forces will not leave Iraq, and this will please me because … so, I mean, as long as they are here, they can give the opportunity to our country to choose the right and the democratic path. I mean, God forbid if the American now leave our country too early, it will be pretty much … I mean, a lot of things will be not as we planned.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    Ali says the question of whether the Bush administration used the threat of weapons of mass destruction to justify U.S. entrance into the war is not important to him.

  • ASSAD ALI:

    This is your own problem in the United States, and you handle it between you. We thank the United States for helping us ousting Saddam Hussein. This is all what I'm interested in.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    The ousting of Saddam Hussein is paramount for University of Illinois at Chicago history professor Guity Nashat also. On sabbatical to write a book on Islamic states, Iraqi American Nashat finds time to discuss Iraq with her husband, Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary Becker.

  • GUITY NASHAT:

    I'm very optimistic about Iraq because I believe the majority of Iraqis would like to be free. They feel elated that Saddam Hussein is overthrown, and he's captured. Especially his capture was a very important point for many Iraqis, who now can feel free of his … the dread that his regime had created.

    And I think many Iraqis are secular. They're highly educated. They do not want to have a theocracy. It's possible that during the negotiations, the future negotiations, they may say Islam has to play a greater role in a … let's say as a moral force in our life, but beyond that, I'm not really sure it's going to be … I mean, it's hard to tell at this point, but I don't think it really matters.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    In the cafes, most Iraqi emigres are grateful that Hussein is gone. It is what comes next that concerns them now.

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