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Two Iraqi American Families: Worrying, Waiting and Debating the War - 2003-04-16

Iraqi Americans watched the war in Iraq with great emotion: anger for some, hope for others – and wrenching anxiety for all. Carolyn Weaver talked with two families who both opposed Saddam Hussein’s regime, but whose views remain very different.

Physician Jamal Fadul left Iraq 12 years ago, and met his wife Maha, a computer expert, in Canada. They now live in College Park, Maryland, near Washington, D.C., where they followed television news of the war intensely. Despite their fear for family and friends in Iraq, they felt there was no alternative to the war. “So what’s the other way?” Maha Fadul asked in a recent interview, her face tense with worry. She still has family members in Baghdad. “We prayed there would be some [other] way, not the war.”

Her husband reasoned that the war would save Iraqi lives that would have been lost had Saddam Hussein remained in power.

“This is going to end a 35-year war that Iraq people are living in,” Dr. Fadul said, “the 35-year war that Saddam Hussein began when he and the Ba’ath regime came in power: They put the Iraqi people in war. And every day there is loss of life, either in his jails or they execute innocent Iraqi people for no reason. So 25 days of war, or 35 days of war to end this 35 years of war is justified.”

On the other side of Washington is another Iraqi-American family, who asked to be called the Sima’ans, to protect their anonymity. Sami left Iraq 35 years ago and was an activist in the West against the Saddam Hussein regime. His wife Linah is Palestinian. Badia, their daughter, is American-born. Zaid, Sami’s cousin, left Iraq in 1984. They all despised Saddam Hussein. But they also opposed the U.S. policy in Iraq on every ground:

“At what point do you stop ping-ponging the Iraqi people back and forth because of global political issues?” Badia commented over dinner with her parents and cousin. “There was a time we supported Saddam, and we like to not talk about that, while he was gassing the Kurds, while he was doing those things --” “We gave him weapons,” said Zaid.

“I personally stand and have stood very strongly against the practices of Saddam Hussein,” Sami said. “I have friends who lost their lives for this, and all of that does not justify in my view killing more Iraqis so that we’re going to ‘save you.’ Most Iraqis will tell you that we don’t like what Saddam has done to our country, but that doesn’t mean we’ll bring in foreign invaders.”

Dr. Jamul Fadul, however, contends that views like the Sima’ans ignore the present-day realities of life inside Iraq. “I think they left Iraq a long time ago,” he said, “and they are not in touch with what’s going on inside. And now this war, it showed the Iraqi people were paralyzed, [that] they [could not] do anything.”

Dr. Fadul says he fled Iraq when he was targeted for treating Iraqis injured in the failed 1991 uprising against Saddam Hussein. He witnessed many horrors in that time, he said. “I saw that they killed 70 injured civilian people in the hospital. They put them all together and they shot them because they thought they were revolutionary people. I was followed just because I treated civilian people, I didn’t fire any gun.”

Sami Sima’an said his life, too, was threatened for his activism against Saddam Hussein’s regime. But he is skeptical about the opposition groups now returning to Iraq. “The fact of the matter,” he said, “is that aside from the Kurd and to some degree the Shi’ite, there is no proof that any of them have any base inside Iraq. I mean, the task of liberation is a very arduous task: building trust, building confidence, building processes, giving opportunities, raising hope. None of them has engaged in that.”

The Faduls are far more hopeful about Iraq’s immediate future. They note that Iraq has many highly-educated people who can remember their country before Saddam. “And they will take over the country, and move forward, and they will rebuild the country in very short time,” said Dr. Fadul. Both families are united on one point: they long to see their native land again, and plan to visit – and help -- as soon as possible. “I really feel that most Iraqis who are sitting here, living abroad, living outside of Iraq need to do that,” said Zaid Sima’an. “Because that is the only hope and that is the only link that Iraqis that are living there have.”

“I have that feeling, too,” said Jamal Fadul, “because I think this is the time I have to support there, and to help injured people, to do some humanitarian help for them, and at the same time to counteract the brainwashing of Saddam Hussein to the Iraqi people, some of them, the young generation -- to tell them a different version of the real world.”