Iraqis in U.S. Increasingly Pessimistic about Peace

Three years after the start of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, some Iraqi ex-patriots are increasingly pessimistic about the prospects for peace in Iraq. Debra Baer of member station KPCC speaks with Iraqi Americans living in Southern California.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Three years into the war in Iraq, what you think of the fighting may depend on who you are.

Elsewhere in the program this morning we're hearing from U.S. Marines based in Southern California. Right now we're going to meet some Iraqi Americans in Southern California.

Debra Baer, of member station KPCC, reports on one of the largest Iraqi immigrant communities in the United States.

Ms. DEBRA BAER reporting:

In their offices, homes, and mosques, Iraqi Americans are solemn as they observe the anniversary of the war.

Maha Yousef(ph) is an orthodontist in Orange County. She says Saddam Hussein's government killed many of her family members in Baghdad. She hasn't been back to Iraq in 30 years.

Ms. MAHA YOUSEF (Iraqi-American): I believe that the United States played a great role in going into Iraq and ousting Saddam. However, today the present situation is chaotic and I feel that the insurgents are having the upper hand.

Ms. BAER: She worries about her brothers and sisters back home.

Ms. YOUSEF: My biggest fear is that we might end up having a civil war. We all are losing hope, which is very bad.

Ms. BAER: Imam Said Mostafa Al Qazwini is the religious leader of the Islamic Educational Center of Orange County. He says his congregation was optimistic at the beginning of the war.

Imam MOSTAFA AL QAZWINI (Islamic Educational Center, California): March 2003 to, probably, June or July of the same year, was the golden era of Iraq, post Saddam Hussein, because you would be able to travel freely, there wasn't any assassinations, there wasn't any secular violence. So people were able to go, to be reunited with their families.

Ms. BAER: But Al Qazwini says that optimism is disappearing.

Imam AL QAZWINI: I am sad. Always the news coming from there are about bloodshed, killing, kidnapping. The general mood among the Iraqi congregant is one of despair.

Ms. BAER: Isam Ali (ph) is a civil engineer who lives in Irvine. He was born in Baghdad.

Mr. ISAM ALI (Iraqi-American, California): I personally was excited about the removal of the regime, because my family, my wife's family, have suffered. Ten of my cousins were executed.

Ms. BAER: Ali's sister remains in Baghdad. He spoke with her three weeks ago. She's a Shiite who lives in one of the city's nicer neighborhoods, a mostly Sunni one. But he says for the first time she told him she's afraid.

Mr. ALI: I asked her about services, I asked her about power and water and so forth, she said, you know, these are not important to us anymore. What we think of that is just, is my husband going to come home? Is my kids, when they go to school, are they going to come home? Is somebody going to come to our house and start shooting, you know?

Ms. BAER: Ali says he, like other Iraqis, is deeply disappointed. But he hasn't lost all hope. Neither has Saniv Sahab(ph) of Newport Beach. She and her family run a company that continues to recruit Iraqi citizens to work in their home country for American contractors.

Ms. SANIV SAHAB (Iraqi-American): You always hear the bad things out of the media and not the good things. But most of the Iraqi people, they are very, very thankful about what the American troops are doing there, about their sacrifice, about their support, and trying to get Iraq toward democracy.

Ms. BAER: Sahab and other Iraqis in Southern California say they hope that support will continue for as long as it takes to stabilize the national unity government and avert a civil war.

For NPR News, I'm Debra Baer.

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