STERLING HEIGHTS, MICHIGAN
— Iraqi refugees continue to arrive in the United States in large numbers, fleeing bombings and other violence ten years after then U.S. President George W. Bush declared the successful conclusion of combat operations following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Many of these refugees have settled in the U.S state of Michigan; some say the U.S. mission to bring democracy and security to their country has failed.
The “Mission Accomplished” banner across the bridge of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln
, helped President George W. Bush convey a sense of achievement to Americans less than two months after the invasion of Iraq. “...And in the battle of Iraq, the United States and her allies have prevailed,” said Bush.
But that sentiment soon evaporated as U.S. and allied casualties mounted in the post-invasion insurgency that left Iraq on the brink of civil war.
“It’s not accomplished and the Americans that were living in Iraq and working there they know it was not accomplished," said Iraqi refugee Mohanad Kedage.
On October 31, 2010, Kedage was one of hundreds of Christian worshippers attending an evening mass at Our Lady of Salvation, when terrorists stormed the Catholic Church.
58 people died in the attack, including several of Kedage’s family members. His sense of well being was shattered.
“We lost three in that church," Kedage recalled. "There is no security at all in Iraq. If they are not going to bomb the churches they will bomb the cars. People will use the bombing belts to bomb themselves with other innocent people.”
Kedage decided to flee Iraq with his family soon after the church attack. He settled in Michigan, and has since struggled to make ends meet. “There is no jobs. Living in the U.S. is hard too. It is not only the security, [that] is not enough," he said. "Living in Iraq was hard but here it is hard too.”
“Just last year, 2012, we received 4600 Iraqis here,” said Mediha Tariq, program coordinator for the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services
(ACCESS) in Michigan.
The continued insecurity in Iraq has dramatically increased the number of refugees living in Southeast Michigan, which is home to the largest Arab American population in the United States. Tariq said aside from physical injuries and ailments, half of all incoming Iraq refugees suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and at least one fourth suffer from severe depression.
“I don’t know what it means when he said that the mission was accomplished, because for us I think that opened a whole new can of worms. We are happy to receive our new neighbors that are Iraqi refugees, but they come with a lot of baggage and there is a lot of fixing to be done,” Tariq said.
Mohanad Kedage is still fixing his frayed nerves as he struggles to eek out a living in the U.S. for his family, with help from ACCESS. “I will never return to Iraq. I can’t go back to Iraq. This is my second home," he asserted. "The first is Iraq. America is my second home.”
A second home where his first priority is providing a better future for his children.