INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — When American troops entered Iraq in 2003 to topple Saddam Hussein, Sajjad Jawad thought his homeland would be saved. He signed up to work with the Americans.
In 2010, Jawad, 46, and his family fled to the U.S., fearing for their safety due to his ties to the Americans.
Now, his country teeters again on the brink of collapse. Extremist militants threaten to overthrow the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Last week, President Barack Obama said he was sending as many as 300 military advisers to Iraq.
In Indianapolis, Iraqis like Jawad watch and wonder how effective that will prove.
The Northeastside resident said he would like to see the U.S. come out in strong support of the elected government, which has been under fire among some of Iraq’s ethnic groups for engaging in discriminatory activities.
“There is no need to push soldiers to be killed in Iraq, but to have the American community use its prestigious position to make clear announcement that Iraq is under democracy,” he told The Indianapolis star (http://indy.st/1sQPyMg ). “They didn’t commit any crime; the only complaint about Iraq government is marginalizing some small portion of the community. . You should respect the minorities, but they should act as positive opposition, not as slayers and killers.”
Two of Jawad’s sisters fled their homes north of Baghdad, where there was fighting, to live with their mother in the capital city, which is safer.
Jawad, who in Iraq served as manager of the liaison office between the American troops and Iraqi people, said he would love to bring his family here, but gaining asylum in the U.S. is not easy.
Since 2007, nearly 85,000 Iraqi refugees have been admitted to the U.S. About 150 families have come to Indianapolis, estimates Jawad, manager of employment services at Refugee and Immigrant Services, a program of Catholic Charities Indianapolis.
Unlike other refugees, those from Iraq often leave behind a relatively luxurious life in their homeland, said Gabrielle Neal, program director for Refugee and Immigrant Services.
“Every refugee, their story is so different, but a lot of Iraqi refugees have come from a lifestyle that’s more equivalent to the U.S. culture,” she said.
Many were professionals and had to start all over here. They left because staying could jeopardize their lives.
Basim Najeeb and his family left after he was shot in the stomach in a terrorist attack. His family fled to Syria for two years. In 2009, they came to the U.S. as refugees.
Najeeb, a lawyer, left behind five brothers, three sisters and his mother. He is the only child here. Two of his four children were born here, and his mother has never seen them. He last saw her three years ago, when they met in Saudi Arabia.
Now, she, his sisters and his brothers are all living in fear. He tries to speak to them every day or so on the phone, just to check in. His brother, who is Sunni, tells him that Shiite militia are everywhere on the streets and that they target those who belong to other Muslim sects.
The Southside resident said he feels safe here, but he said, “It was not an easy decision. “Imagine one day you will leave everything. You will leave your memories. . But there are priorities, and I think your first priority is your life, your safety.”
Fears over safety led to Jawad’s decision to leave, too. In Iraq, he had two drivers and twice traveled to the U.S. on business.
Then, things soured. The Americans made strategic mistakes, he said, leaving many Iraqis without an income. Many Iraqis resented the Americans and their countrymen who had opted to work with them.
After a colleague was killed, Jawad began to fear for his own safety, especially because his connections to the Americans were well-known.
When he, his wife and two sons moved to Indianapolis, they left behind his six brothers (one of whom later moved here), three sisters and his mother. Because he had a prominent position working with the Americans, he fears it would never be safe for him to return to Iraq.
Others have returned. Nadhim Al-Awadi, 49, who came to the U.S. in 1994 after three years in a refugee camp in Saudi Arabia, made a monthlong trip to Iraq this spring.
It was the first time in 24 years that he had seen his homeland. He met nieces and nephews born after he left, fleeing for safety since he had fought against Saddam. The despot had ruled the country for three decades, squashing most dissent.
Upon his return, Al-Awadi found a country much changed. In addition to the violence, prices of basics like food and water have soared.
“People are suffering,” he said, “but people are living normal life.”
His family lives in Najaf, south of Baghdad, and he felt safe there.
Still, he can’t believe how much the country has changed since he was a boy. At that time, Shiites, Sunnis and Christians all lived together. Many members of his family, Shiites, have married Sunnis. Now, he says, the militants, many of whom come from other countries, want to divide them.
“This is not an Iraqi group; this is not revolution. What happens right now is terrorism in Iraq,” he said. “They don’t want Iraq to be safe; they don’t want people living a normal life. They try to keep people suffering. They want to keep Shiites trying to kill Sunnis and Sunnis killing Shiites.”
Despite all the turmoil, al-Awadi, who used to own an Iraqi restaurant here, believes that the strength of his people will prevail, and they will work together to restore his homeland.
“I guarantee 100 percent that everything will settle down,” he said.
Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com
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