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War Torn 

Despite their hatred of Saddam Hussein, many Iraqis living in the U.S. oppose Bush's war

Wednesday, Feb 5 2003
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As teams of FBI agents fan out across America looking for 50,000 Iraqis to question about their loyalties -- Saddam or Dubya?, you decide -- they are expected to concentrate their efforts in Michigan, Texas, and California. So at least some of the several thousand Iraqi people who live in the Bay Area -- many of whom fled their country after Saddam Hussein seized power -- will probably hear a knock on the door in the not-too-distant future.

Many Bay Area Iraqi émigrés are U.S. citizens, professionals educated in American universities who have established businesses, bought homes in affluent suburbs, and raised their children as middle-class Americans. Some belong to mosques, some to Christian churches. They are, like most Americans, divided by class, gender, age, and political preferences. And like the public at large, some favor invading Iraq, while others are strongly opposed.

The New York Times recently observed, rather one-sidedly: "Iraqis living in America ... are among the staunchest supporters of Mr. Bush's campaign for military action. For many of them, no price is too great to overthrow the Iraqi leader -- even if it costs the lives of ordinary Iraqis, including their own relatives. ... For them, there is no debate over the rightness of America's going to war with Iraq."

The Times might not have proclaimed expatriate Iraqis so uniformly bellicose if its reporter had talked to Adnan Al Adeeb, an Iraqi émigré who owns a Walnut Creek architectural engineering firm.

"The U.S. is in it for the oil; its agenda is to dominate, not to free Iraq," says Adeeb, who fears the "heavy price of war on Iraqi civilians" as much, if not more than he loathes Saddam Hussein. To the degree that Adeeb's anti-war stance reflects the opinion of many Iraqi-Americans, prying FBI agents are likely to discover that opposing the war is not the same as supporting the Ba'ath regime -- and that desiring Hussein's liquidation is not the same as desiring war.

In 1963, the Iraqi government sent Adeeb to study at Stanford University. After earning a doctorate in engineering, Adeeb returned to Iraq, where he built public works for the government and taught engineering in a university. Two years after Hussein declared himself dictator in 1979, Adeeb and his family sneaked out of Iraq and flew to the United States. "I was afraid if I stayed I would be executed," he says.

"My sister's two sons were executed," he adds, noting that his sister is nonetheless so terrified of the Iraqi leader that she still has a picture of him in her living room.

Adeeb, 62, found work teaching engineering at UC Berkeley. He started his own engineering company and his children graduated from American colleges. He has the highest respect for American ideals of democracy and freedom, but he takes exception to America's "imperial" adventures in the Middle East.

Hussein's rise to power was facilitated by the United States government, Adeeb says. "When Saddam Hussein suppressed people, the CIA knew it. He did it with their blessing."

Like Iraqis on both sides of the war question, Adeeb is still angry about the immediate aftermath of the Persian Gulf War when the first Bush "betrayed the rebellions in the south of Iraq." He does not believe the U.S. military is interested in promoting democracy in Iraq.

Adeeb is a practicing Muslim. A tapestry inscribed with a quote from the Koran in Arabic -- "a god who is merciful" -- hangs in his office. Adeeb appears to be a gentle soul, but recent events have riled him up.

"I thought the U.S. was about freedom," he says. "I ran away from a dictator, now I feel betrayed by U.S. policy. Some at the mosque fear surveillance, some fear the prospect of internment in the event of war; they fear that their cash will be impounded.

"This could be a great country if it abided by the principles of its Constitution. But change requires a movement and time. Unfortunately, the media controls the mind of the average person. He is busy making his buck to support the family. He goes home, he drinks his beer, he sleeps, he goes to work again."

Adeeb shrugs, hoping that the average American soon awakens from his political slumber, as he himself has.

"When I was a very serious student at Stanford during the Vietnam War, which was also unjust, I had no time to demonstrate while making the grade," he says. Now, things are different. "I recently went to my first anti-war demonstration.

"Americans should look at why terrorist acts happen. Never-ending injustices create never-ending violence."

In Menlo Park, 50 miles from Walnut Creek, Mahmood Suleiman says, "I went to a picnic of Iraqis [recently]. The subject of war can't be avoided. Not a single person there said, 'Hey, let's go.' All of us felt that the people of Iraq deserve a better government, but we are all worried, losing sleep. We have family there; they are worried. People forget that it is a form of terror to make people worry with the talk of war every day. It is unthinkable to indulge in another war."

Suleiman and Adeeb have never met, but they have much in common. Suleiman, 76, holds an advanced engineering degree from Berkeley, courtesy of the Iraqi government. In the 1950s, he helped build the Iraqi railway system. In 1965, he joined the World Health Organization as a sanitary environmental engineer and became a manager. In the 1970s, he helped construct water pipelines and sewage plants in Iraq.

In 1991, he watched on TV from his home in America "as so-called smart bombs hit the Baghdad sewage treatment plant that had been the pride of WHO. Now, raw sewage runs into the river; we have inadvertently used biological weapons, creating epidemics of typhoid and cholera."

Suleiman talks about how Iraq, because of its oil riches, became an industrialized country capable of aiding less developed nations. "My brother and sister were teachers. They owned their homes before I did, they had cars, they traveled to Europe on vacations. Iraq was flooded with Egyptians doing menial jobs."

Everything changed when the Iraqi army entered Kuwait in 1990. According to Suleiman, many Iraqis feel that Hussein fell into a trap laid by the United States, which remains intent upon seizing Iraq's oil fields and utilizing the now-impoverished country as a base for regional military operations.

"My brother and sister died during the [UN-imposed] sanctions," he says. "They had diabetes. There was no medicine. There is another kind of death, too. The death of hope, the death of unemployment, no real college, no computers, no one becoming an engineer, a doctor, a teacher."

Suleiman says that when he first came to America he was impressed by the kindness of the people. "I wanted my country to become like America, with a constitution and freedom.

"A few years ago, an Iraqi wrote a book called Republic of Fear, about life under Saddam Hussein," he continues. "Now I see the Patriot Act and thousands arrested and no accusations and no legal representation and millions set up to spy on their neighbors. And I see that this government has turned America into a republic of fear. The Bush administration is taking up the law of the jungle.

"I call myself a Moslem. Every day I say silent prayers to guide our leaders to see daylight. I hope that the angel Gabriel [who delivered the message of prophecy to Mohammed] will come down to wake them up."

Like Adeeb and Suleiman, Emanuel Ashoo was born in Iraq, studied engineering abroad, returned to Iraq to build public works and, in the end, became an American citizen. Ashoo, who is a Presbyterian, shares their contempt for Hussein, as well as their abhorrence of the approaching war.

"I was against the Gulf War," he says. "But I wish that the U.S. had overthrown Hussein. They could have finished him easily."

Despite that violent sentiment, Ashoo, 72, is a pacifist. He has the financial means to live an easy life in retirement, but he has chosen to speak against the prospective war at Bay Area churches and on satellite television. Aware that he may be under surveillance, he is wary of what he says in public, on the telephone, and in e-mail lest his remarks be misinterpreted by secret police with spy-catching quotas to fill -- or perhaps other forces. (Shortly after 9/11, he discovered a fizzled car bomb in the gas tank of his car. He made a police report but no one was arrested.)

Ashoo has visited Iraq since the Gulf War -- on the q.t., since he is no friend of the regime. He reports that the people have been rebuilding the war-damaged country, despite the impediment of sanctions. They are terrified of the coming war.

"Some Iraqi people will behave as patriots if their country is attacked," he says sadly.

Deena Al Adeeb is Adnan's daughter. Young, brisk, and afire with political commitment, she is an organizer for the Women of Color Resource Center in Oakland. As hundreds of people demonstrated last month in front of the Immigration and Naturalization Service building in San Francisco -- protesting the arrest and deportation of Arab men whose visas had expired -- she explained why Iraqis of her father's generation are hooking up with the new anti-war movement.

"Inside America, people who call themselves 'anti-imperialists' are usually radical leftists," she says. "But outside America, even conservative businessmen will call themselves anti-imperialist when American militarism threatens their families."

About The Author

Peter Byrne

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