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One American Iraqi’s Experience - 2003-04-16

English Feature #7-37359 Broadcast April 7, 2003

According to the census conducted in the year 2000 there are 90,000 Iraqi immigrants living in the United States, more than one-third of them refugees who fled Saddam Hussein’s regime because of the fear of death or persecution. Today on New American Voices, one of these refugees, Dr. Adil Awahd, talks about his life, and about his reaction to the war in his native land.

“I have mixed feelings of jubilation and anxiety – jubilation because I’m looking at Iraqi people who are so close to a new era filled with freedom and hopefully democracy, but at the same time I’m anxious because I’m a little bit concerned about the loss of civilian life. But generally speaking I think this war is very important, it’s very necessary, the Iraqi people need it because we’ve had enough, we want to start a new life.”

Dr. Adil Awahd studied medicine in Baghdad, and from 1994 to 1996 interned at a military hospital in southern Iraq where, he says, he came face-to—face with the cruelty of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

“In 1994 Saddam Hussein issued a decree ordering the amputation of the ears of his opponents. And the Iraqi doctors were forced to perform those atrocities. Many of the doctors had to perform them, because they were under the threat of getting killed or imprisoned. Some of them refused, and unfortunately they lost their lives.”

While Dr. Awahd, as an intern, did not perform any of these operations, he was required to treat the victims who, after being thrown into prison after the procedure, were returned to the hospital when their wounds became severely infected. Dr. Awahd says that witnessing the cruelty of the regime and the suffering it caused led him to defect and join the Iraqi opposition fighting in northern Iraq, in Kurdistan. But in late 1996, Saddam’s army invaded the region, and thousands of opposition fighters – Dr. Awahd among them - fled to a small town on the Iraqi-Turkish border, from where they were evacuated by the Americans. Eventually Dr. Awahd was resettled in the midwestern state of Nebraska. He says that there the image he had of Americans, based on films and TV shows he had eagerly watched in Iraq, quickly changed.

“The Hollywood movies mainly concentrate on action, violence and sex. The people in the Middle East live a conservative life, especially if you compare it to Western society. The people will have an impression that is not favorable to life inside the United States. But when you come to the United States, you feel that the people are just like any other people in the world. They’re caring people, they have family ties and they care about their family. It’s a normal life, filled with happiness and gloomy days like any other society in the world. The details of American life are better close up than when you see them from far away.”

Like any doctor immigrating to the United States, Adil Awahd could not practice medicine before requalifying as a physician in this country. In the meantime he found work as a translator, and later in a refugee resettlement agency. He also became actively involved in Iraqi-American organizations. As a prominent Iraqi American, earlier this month, on September 4, Dr. Awahd was invited to the White House to meet with President George Bush.

“I was among twelve Iraqi Americans who attended the meeting at the White House. We had the time to chat with the President. I shared with him my experience in Iraq and I actually took the opportunity to propose to him to order his troops in Iraq to start looking for the earless victims of Saddam Hussein, and I know there are many of them. I proposed that he offer them cosmetic surgical treatmentoutside Iraq. And I explained to the President that doing so would not only show the world the gruesome image of Saddam’s regime, but also help the people in the Middle East understand the kindness of this nation and its leader.”

Dr. Awahd and his wife have two sons, aged nine and three, one born in Iraq, the other here. He says he thinks the older boy, Osama, understands what is happening in Iraq.

“I told him to watch the news, and I tried to explain to him that these are very important days in our life. We’re lucky, actually. I feel very lucky that I am witnessing Saddam’s regime crumbling before my eyes, and I wanted my son to see the joy and significance of the moment.”

Adil Awahd says that although, growing up in Nebraska, his sons are very much like any American kids, they are Iraqi too. Their heritage is Iraqi and their primary language at home is Arabic. He hopes that as Iraqi Americans they will be able to have a stable, normal life.

“I wish for my kids to live a life that is different from the life that I had lived. Iraq is a very nice country, it is a cradle of civilization. But unfortunately the recent history of Iraq is filled with tribulation and hardship. A lot of trauma, a lot of victimization of the people of Iraq. I watched some of these atrocities unfolding in front of my eyes. I certainly don’t wish for my sons to see the gruesome images that I had seen in Iraq. I wish for my son to continue living in the United States, studying in a good school, and if he wants to contribute back to Iraq, I think the doors will be wide open by then, and hopefully new days of freedom and democracy will ensue.”

As for himself, Dr. Awahd says that, with his American experience, he wants to contribute to building a democratic Iraq. He says he thinks that for the foreseeable future Iraq will need all the help it can get.