Syrian-Americans Encourage U.S. Strike Against Assad Regime

The recent chemical attack on civilians in Syria galvanized international condemnation against the supposed perpetrator, Bashar al-Assad's regime. The U.S. is expected to take some sort of military action. But what should be the goals of the U.S. and its allies? Experts, diplomats, world leaders are weighing in — but, perhaps, nowhere else are these questions felt more deeply than among those in Syrian-American community.

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For Syrian Americans, the situation in Syria is emotionally wrenching, and the prospect of U.S. intervention leaves them torn. NPR's Cheryl Corley talked with two Syrian Americans in Chicago's suburbs about their hopes and concerns.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: In Dr. Zaher Sahloul's medical office, he and a colleague are setting up a computer and cellphone to make a Skype phone call to another physician in Syria.

DR. ZAHER SAHLOUL: We're trying to make some connections. Can we plug the microphone in?

CORLEY: Sahloul is a critical-care specialist in suburban Chicago who even attended medical school with Syria's President Bashar al-Assad. Sahloul is president of the Syrian American Medical Society, a group which supports medical workers inside Syria and in refugee camps.

Sahloul is talking with a doctor about how to get medical supplies into regions where the chemical attacks occurred. He's gone back to Syria and neighboring countries several times, to share his expertise and to help build field hospitals. He uses Skype to stay in daily contact with physicians, to advise on best practices.

SAHLOUL: When we had the chemical weapon attack last week, you know, from 2 a.m. until next day, no one actually had some, you know, sleep. You know, we went into crisis mode.

CORLEY: Sahloul still has family in Syria - his parents, who are in their 70s, and siblings. One sister's house was destroyed in fighting. He says after two and a half years of massive destruction, thousands of deaths and millions displaced, it's time for the United States to step in.

SAHLOUL: I never imagined in my life that I would like my adopted country to intervene in my homeland. It's very difficult, and many of us Syrian-American expatriate community have mixed feelings.

CORLEY: But Sahloul says most of the community here believes there should be intervention to protect Syria's population. He says he thinks any limited or surgical strike against the Assad regime would not make sense.

SAHLOUL: They will perceive the slap on the wrist as a green light to continue killing the population the same way they've been doing that for the past two years and a half, using conventional weapon. I think if intervention happen, the goal should be to end the crisis once and for all.

CORLEY: About 4,000 Syrian Americans live in the Chicago area. I meet with Lina Sergie Attar at a popular Mediterranean restaurant in a suburb north of Chicago. Attar is a co-founder of the Karam Foundation, which provides humanitarian aid for Syria and Syrian refugees. She was born in New York, but her family returned to Aleppo. Just last August, her parents and her 90-year-old grandmother relocated to the United States.

LINA SERGIE ATTAR: She is obviously very concerned about leaving her home, and everyone in my family is concerned about leaving their home and leaving their lives behind.

CORLEY: Attar says she knows Americans are extremely leery about becoming embroiled again in a Middle East military action that could spread into a widespread war. She says it's a difficult situation but...

ATTAR: Not every intervention ends in Iraq or Afghanistan. And I hope that the United States learned from its past mistakes, and intervenes in a way that is based on humanitarian interests and not political ones. But we are all worried about the same things.

CORLEY: Attar says it's time for regime change in Syria, even if there's uncertainty about the opposition fighting the Syrian government.

ATTAR: We know that they've committed crimes on the ground, the military opposition. Nothing that you can compare to the regime side but yeah, looking at it from the outside, you think that Syria is a mess when reality is, it's that you have a people trying their best to fight something that's unstoppable.

CORLEY: Unstoppable, she says, unless the U.S. steps in. So now, she and other Syrian Americans here are waiting to see if, and to what extent, any American intervention will be.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

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