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Iraqi Voices


March 1, 2003

Iraqi exiles take hope in war buildup
Fawn Vrazo

Peace marches? Iraqi businessman Ali al Bayati, 46, dismisses them as PR fodder for Saddam Hussein and points to his TV. Sure enough, Hussein's satellite station is showing scenes of last month's huge marches, again and again.

President Bush? Europeans may disdain him, but he's "a great man," says Iraqi maintenance engineer Hayder Hamid, 40. "I feel he wants to do something for the Iraqi people this time."

The looming invasion of Iraq by a massive Western war machine? "I see it as... the glimmer of hope we've been waiting for," says medical student Sama Hadad.

While much of world opinion opposes war, there is an almost opposite point of view among those with a very personal stake in the outcome - the ordinary Iraqis who left their homeland because of Hussein's brutality.

An estimated four million have fled Iraq because of Hussein; 350,000 of them are in the United Kingdom.

Look through their eyes, and Hussein is an unspeakably evil murderer and torturer who must be stopped.

In a way he is worse than Hitler, because in addition to killing others, "he fights his own people, kills his people, every day," says former Iraqi teacher Alya, 52, a London community worker who asked that only her first name be used.

Alya was imprisoned for 40 days in Iraq because she and her husband were active in Iraq's Communist Party.

She points to the false front teeth that replaced real ones punched out by police, points to her damaged left ear, and finally to her left hip and leg - broken when, after she was released from prison, Hussein's people ran her down with a car.

Still, she and others admit, war is a difficult choice and not to be applauded outright.

"Almost all Iraqi people feel like me - they want Saddam gone," Alya said in a west London community center this week as other Iraqi women engaged in energetic aerobics nearby. "But if the war happens, it will kill innocent people. But Saddam needs to go. How? How?"

"We will pray for a minimum of casualties; war is never clean," said Yasser Alaskary, 22, a London medical student. But still, he said, the prospect of U.S. and British forces invading Iraq and toppling Hussein seems "too good to be true."

Alaskary, his fellow medical student Hadad and other young Iraqis formed a group called Iraqi Prospect a year ago in an attempt to get the exile point of view across to the world.

In Manchester, businessman Bayati has done the same, leading a group called Iraqi Exiles in Britain that has sent its concerns to British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Iraqis here are distressed to see that as the issue of the war fills newspapers and television screens every day, nearly all groups but Iraqis are asked their opinions about it.

"It is hurting and disturbing and not pleasant that someone other than your own people" is debating your country's fate, says London fashion importer Kawa Besarani.

Recently, the efforts to inject exile and refugee voices into the debate have had some success. In speeches, Blair has begun citing exile concerns when stressing the humanitarian argument for an invasion of Iraq.

As 750,000 antiwar marchers massed in London on Feb. 15, the prime minister told a Labor Party conference in Glasgow: "There will be no march for the victims of Saddam, no protests about the thousands of children that die needlessly every year under his rule, no righteous anger over the torture chambers which, if he is left in power, will be left in being."

On Wednesday, as Blair faced a politically crippling debate and vote in Parliament over the war, Sama Hadad could be seen on British television delivering a petition to No. 10 Downing Street "urging the international community to remove Saddam by any means necessary... . [I]t is hoped that the voice of Iraqis will make an impact on the ministerial vote and will shift it in favor of military intervention and will pressurize the prime minister to commit to democracy post-Saddam."

Iraqis are as diverse as any other people, though, and despite a generally shared hatred of Hussein, the exiles' support for the war varies, as do their opinions about President Bush's intentions.

London fashion importer Besarani agrees with many that peace marchers saw only one side of the argument. While they were genuine in saying stop the war, he said, "you need to have a balance. I could call this the most brutal regime the world has ever seen, and sometimes they miss that point."

Still, Besarani, who fled Iraq as a young man when his opposition work put him in mortal danger, desperately wants an alternative to war - perhaps U.N. "humanitarian inspectors" who would roam Iraq like weapons inspectors.

Even many who support war, he said, question Bush's motives. "They think the U.S. approach is not necessarily to help the Iraqi people," he said.

Yasser Alaskary of Iraqi Prospect agrees. "It's for American interests, not our interests, and we all know it's that. But the result is the same - Saddam is removed."

Sama Hadad, 22, left Iraq when she was 12 hours old. Police came to her family's home with guns drawn and ordered her mother, who had just given birth, and other family members to leave immediately.

Their crime: They were deemed suspicious for being too religious and attending mosque too often.

The family fled to Iran and finally to London, one grandfather dying on the way. Hadad dreams now of returning to a post-Hussein Iraq as a doctor, to help her people recover and rebuild from the death and destruction caused by a monster.

She favors war as the only apparent way to end Hussein's rule. Her hatred for him is so deep, she says, that "there are no words to describe it. The most horrific words would not be descriptive enough.

© 2007 Iraqi Prospect Organisation
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