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Iraqi Exiles in US Urge Support for Military Action Against Saddam

Iraqi exiles in the United States met Thursday with Bush administration officials and members of Congress to urge Americans to support military action against Saddam Hussein and bring democracy to Iraq.

The members of a group called Women for a Free Iraq were among about 20 Iraqi expatriates who went first to the White House, and then to Capitol Hill.

Some are from the Kurdish area of northern Iraq. Others are Shiites who faced a crackdown by government troops in southern Iraq after the 1991 Operation Desert Storm evicted Iraq's forces from Kuwait.

"As children we were shaded [shielded] from much of Saddam's brutality. The less we knew, the better. My parents were afraid of what we might say at school that could further endanger the family," said Esra Naama, who fled southern Iraq with her mother and other family members.

Another member of the group was Raz Rasool. In 1996, while eight months pregnant, she and her husband fled the Kurdish area of Iraq after government troops invaded.

"I had to run from house to house, for three weeks, to hide. Many of my friends were killed," she said. "I see ourselves, this group, as survivors. There are many, many more and many, many more stories, that are still there, waiting for us to rescue them. Help us to rescue our people."

Asked their reaction to protests in the United States and elsewhere against a U.S. led military strike, the women say they believe anti-war demonstrators are mis-informed.

"The people who are actually rallying, who are in the streets, and they are saying we don't [want] war on Iraq, Iraqis actually want Saddam in power, they are being misled," said Tanya Gilly, a Kurdish activist. "They are not informed enough, that's why we are here talking to you, that's why we want to share our story."

Republican Ohio Congresswoman Deborah Pryce hosted the Iraqi women at the U.S. Congress. "These women are living proof that Saddam's regime remains in force. Their stories will convince anyone who cares to listen that the violence will not stop, and the cause of freedom for the Iraqi people will not be promoted, until Saddam is removed," she said.

Earlier, the women and other Iraqi expatriates met at the White House with Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

White House officials made clear the contacts were not part of U.S. efforts to plan for a post-Saddam government in Iraq, but simply to hear personal stories of life under the Iraqi leader.