Iraqi-Americans React With Mixture of Joy, Dread


When Iraqi-Americans heard the news of a possible truce in the Gulf on Thursday, many wavered between joy and dread.

Joy, for at last there was at least a glimmer of hope that the bombing of their homeland would stop and a bloody ground war could be averted.

Dread, because even if the Bush Administration agreed to the peace plan, Saddam Hussein, with his history of bloody repression, would remain in power.

"First I felt joy," said Salem Hassan, a civil engineer in Los Angeles. "This is what we have been hoping for ever since the war, that Saddam would withdraw from Kuwait. Then there was anguish that this man, Saddam, would go right back to Baghdad. It is as if you had been burned, and the burning stopped, but the hurting did not stop."

Many of the estimated 250,000 Iraqi-Americans living in this country fled Iraq as Hussein's Baath Socialist Party consolidated its power in the 1970s. Many went on to become citizens and tried in vain to persuade U.S. leaders to withdraw their support of Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War.

The painful irony for these Iraqi-Americans is that, once the U.S. government did turn on Hussein, it was not the Iraqi leader who suffered, but their own families. Many have been horrified to hear American generals on television speaking of "softening up" Iraqi troops and inflicting "collateral damage" on government buildings and oil refineries and bridges near their relatives' homes.

Many would have been happy to lose Hussein and spare their country. Instead, they now feel they may have lost their country and Hussein may have been spared.

"Imagine, all this could have been saved with one bullet through one man's head," said Hassan, reflecting a widespread frustration among his countrymen. "Sometimes I just want to scream (to Americans), 'You are killing the wrong people! The Iraqi people are not your enemy! Even the Iraqi soldiers are not your enemy. You could kill all of them and Saddam would not care. Saddam is your enemy!' "

Hassan said he has three brothers who are serving in the Iraqi army against their will. A month before war broke out, he said, his youngest brother graduated from high school asked him to send a student visa application so he could come to the United States. Hassan got the application but could not send it because mail service to Iraq was severed.

The last Hassan heard, his younger brother was serving at a military base that news reports say has been bombed three times.

"Everybody is calling each other and saying this peace plan is good news," said Talal Jalaby, an electrical engineer in Orange County. "It is good news because they may stop killing the Iraqi people. This is the first step . . . but the second step is the future of Iraq."

Jalaby, who like Hassan used a pseudonym, said he is afraid his family in Iraq will suffer repercussions because, although he has refused to use his own name, he has taken a position within the Iraqi community of calling for Hussein's removal. After the unpopular Iran-Iraq War, Hussein was reported to have executed numerous--some say hundreds--of military officials accused of plotting against him.

Nonetheless, he and others predicted, there will be coup attempts against Hussein. The question, they said, is whether they will be successful.

Several Iraqi-Americans said they are skeptical that a ground war can be avoided now, even if the latest Soviet-Iraqi peace proposal appears to meet the conditions of the United Nations resolutions adopted before the war started.

Some said they have become convinced over the last five weeks that the allied agenda is not to liberate Kuwait, but to break Iraq and ultimately divide it up as Germany was divided after World War II.

"I am afraid they (the allies) are going to find some obstacles in the peace plan so they can go ahead with a ground war," said Fuad Killu, an Iraqi-American journalist from Glendale.

"We all felt this was supposed to be a clean war to push Saddam out of Kuwait. But from what we have seen, it is not a clean war. Saddam is still alive. But I don't even know if my (three) children are alive. I do know the sewer system is not functioning in Baghdad and there is no heat, no electricity, no medicine, no clean water to drink. Typhoid is imminent; cholera is imminent."

Raad Omar, an Iraqi-born computer specialist in Glendale, said that many Iraqi immigrants will feel great joy if peace materializes but less shock than their American friends if a ground war starts.

"It's like the tragedy, the enormity of it, has already happened," he said. "I've talked with people who already have geared themselves to accept that their whole family is dead."

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