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Iraqi Exiles Against Saddam and Against War - 2003-02-27

In his Wednesday evening speech, outlining his vision of a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, if war should come, President Bush spoke of liberating the Iraqi people and sowing the seeds of democracy for the entire Middle East.

Ask any one of the Iraqis living here in Amman, and you are likely to get similar answers.

Almost all of them are against Saddam Hussein, and would like to see him go. But they do not want war, and they are suspicious of America's motives for military action. Many also worry about what a post-Saddam government might look like. But they also emphasize that they do want democracy, and would like to go back home, if the situation there improves.

Ahmed is a successful young businessman who left Baghdad 13 years ago, after the last Gulf War. He says the situation in Baghdad was so bad after the American bombing that much of the city was without electricity or water, and its infrastructure was destroyed. And then came international sanctions. As a result, he came to Jordan, and vowed not to go back.

He says every Iraqi he has spoken with in Jordan is both against Saddam Hussein, and against war.

"Like all other Iraqis, we prefer to get rid of Saddam Hussein, but not by the way of war," Ahmed said. "We prefer to get rid of him any other way, so that there will not be any problem for the Iraqi people, because they suffered a lot. And, I do not think they have more times to suffer a lot again."

But as much as Ahmed is against the war, he acknowledges that Saddam Hussein is not likely to leave willingly. And, he says, sometimes he thinks the Americans should topple him by military force.

"Sometimes, I agree with them, because you know, getting rid of Saddam Hussein is not an easy way … I think war is the first choice, because he will not leave power, and every day he's getting worse." he said.

Ahmed also says that most Iraqis living inside the country don't really know what is going on.

"If they live in Baghdad, they are completely blocked from the news," he added. "There is no news, no TV, no satellite, only local news, which doesn't show any of these preparations for war."

Ahmed is one of some 300,000 Iraqis estimated to be living in Jordan. They come from all segments of society, and include doctors, engineers, university professors and shopkeepers. Some have proper documentation, and are awaiting visas to move to other countries. But most are here illegally, working at low paying jobs, and living in poor neighborhoods.

Few want to talk with journalists, fearing reprisals against their families back home in Iraq, and they don't want to attract the attention of the Jordanian authorities, and risk possible deportation. Those who agreed to talk with VOA did not want to reveal their real names.

Mona is in her 30s. She left Baghdad 10 years ago, and is now a schoolteacher in Amman. Even though she says she does not like Saddam Hussein, she also scoffs at American charges that he is a threat and must be disarmed now.

"The American wants the war," Mona said. "They are not worried about the Iraqi people, definitely not. Because, if they were like this, they would have killed Saddam Hussein since the 90s, not now.

"Thirteen years since the embargo [international sanctions] happened, and now they want to get rid of Saddam Hussein," she added. "Come on, this is very silly! … We have two enemies now, Saddam from inside and the American policy from outside."

Suspicion of American motives is widespread, not only among Iraqi exiles, but throughout the region. That view is echoed by Mohammed, an Iraqi shopkeeper in an upper middle class neighborhood in Amman.

"It's about oil," Mohammed said. "They want to control all the oil in the Middle East, and by controlling it, they do not have to pay for it."

Control of Iraq's oil is the reason most often cited by Arabs when they talk of American motives. The position is widely held despite the response in Washington and elsewhere that Iraqi oil can be readily bought now, and that any war against Iraq will cost the United States far more than it stands to gain from any oil savings.

Iraqis here also say they do want democracy in Iraq, but few believe that American military action will foster democracy in the region.

Ahmed also says that, if there is a change in Iraq, he and many other Iraqis now in exile would like nothing more than to go back home.

"You will find out that I am the first one to go back to Baghdad. Because, you know, our business is there, our property, our life, our friends are there. Everything we have is there," said Ahmed.

But for now they wait. They wait to see if war will come, or if Saddam Hussein will go, and if he does, what sort of Iraq there will be to go home to.