Baghdad Businessman Reflects On Violence In Iraq

Weekend Edition Sunday Host Rachel Martin talks to Baghdad businessman Haider al-Jumaili about the growing violence in Iraq, where more than a thousand people died in May.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Ambassador Crocker is watching what's happening in Iraq with a careful eye. So are the many Iraqis who fled the country several years ago, when sectarian tensions there escalated to something close to civil war. Haider al-Jumaili was one of them. He is a mechanical engineer but he lost his job after the U.S. invasion and found work as an interpreter for U.S. organizations. Eventually, the sectarian violence started to overwhelm him.

HAIDER AL-JUMAILI: I left my country because of these two words: The Sunnis and the Shias.

MARTIN: Al-Jumaili lost friends in the fighting. And he himself got death threats and eventually was forced to flee.

AL-JUMAILI: My cousin, after 2006, he was a policeman. He was driving on the highway and some of the Sunni people in Tora(ph) neighborhood, which is a Sunni neighborhood. They just start them. They was now wearing the police uniform and they asked for his ID. He was hiding his ID actually. But they saw the pistol underneath the chair. They were recognizing the pistol of the policemen. He said, well, he's a policeman and they started shooting him and they killed him. And after they shooting him, they dragged him on the street.

After three or four days, we found him in the Urouk(ph) Hospital. And the same day we found him, his father, my uncle actually, when he heard that his son has been killed, he grabbed his machine gun and he's trying to go and raided one of the Sunnis neighborhood and kill one of his neighbor member because he was so angry. It's frightened me actually. Since that time, I decided to find another location, another place to my family.

MARTIN: Al-Jumaili sought asylum in the U.S. and he moved with his wife and two kids to Texas and he got a well-paying job there as a truck driver. Five years later, he's thinking about going home to Iraq. He's got a job offer from an oil company in Basra, the southern part of the country. He's back in Baghdad now, weighing his options.

AL-JUMAILI: I told myself, why not? Go to Baghdad and see, because the older news, they're talking about this kind of improvement. They got the good salaries, they good new cars, they got, you know, all new buildings, you know.

MARTIN: So, you thought there would be a good opportunity for you?

AL-JUMAILI: Yeah. So, I came to Baghdad and I spoke to some people, my relatives, what about the situation in Basra? They said you're going to be killed, believe me. Don't take this job. So, you can't live with your kids with this situation. Everything has been, you know, changed since the five years I spent in the United States. The schools are, you know, schools are for Shias and schools for Sunni people.

MARTIN: And that is unsettling to you? You don't like the idea of that segregation.

AL-JUMAILI: Yes, ma'am. Because my wife is Sunni and I am Shia. And I don't believe of that. We have to live with each other. We have to find this kind of brotherhood with each other, you know? So, I am just confused. I don't know what to do.

MARTIN: Haider al-Jumaili is an Iraqi businessman. He and his family live in Texas but he joined us on the line from Baghdad, where is visiting his family and friends. Mr. al-Jumaili, thank you so much for talking with us.

AL-JUMAILI: You're welcome. You're welcome.

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