Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Iraqi Diaspora

Today I was thinking about all the Iraqis who left Iraq, back to the 1980s when my family left and before. I remembered a post by Baghdad Treasure about the "Farhood al Yahood", during which Iraqi Jews were persecuted. Most of my relatives left Iraq in 1991, after the Gulf War. Most of them fled immediately after the bombing and stayed in Amman for up to 18 months before moving to the UK. The flight from Iraq began long ago, but in the last four years the number of refugees fleeing Iraq has risen dramtically. The largest number of Iraqi refugees today are in Syria and Jordan, two countries that have what can be described as love-hate relationships with Iraq.

A few weeks ago I read a story about an Iraqi Christian family that moved to New Hampshire recently. When we moved back to the US in 82, we all knew English pretty well. The family in New Hampshire knows NO English or very little, and that must be very difficult. A few Iraqis have come to America on student visas, like my father had in the 70s. When we returned to Iraq in 1980, it was a culture shock for us kids. We got used to America, and Iraq was a totally different world when we arrived in 1980. I remember one incident, a few days after moving into our house in Baghdad, when a bunch of kids had gathered around me to ask about America. One of them asked me which is more beautiful - Iraq or Colorado. I was 11 years old at the time, and I simply told the truth - I said Colorado. Immediately upon hearing this, another kid named Muhannad, which happens to be my first name too, karate kicked me in the crotch! That was a surprise, and I struggled to defend myself while the other kids watched - I seem to remember one of them trying to help me, until finally my dad came out and broke it up. One week later Iraq invaded Iran, and it all went downhill from there. Later I learned that Muhannad was the youngest son of a hardcore Ba3thi family. I wonder what happened to Muhannad. Anyway it was difficult adjusting to Iraq, but eventually I got used to it, even with the air raids and news of abductions and imprisonments, even with the new TV, constantly adorned with Saddam's image. They did show a foreign movie (usually American) every week. Iraq toughened me, taught me how to study hard, sometimes in candlelight. When I returned to the states I was a good student compared to others and I excelled. We were very happy to return to the US. Every year we count our blessings. I celebrate every Thanksgiving in commemoration of our immigration to America, a great country. God help the Iraqis who face having to go back to Iraq in the current situation, or the horrible state Iraq was in 2006.

The Iraqi Diaspora is huge, and Iraqi refugees need help. One of my cousins has been stuck in Amman for more than a year now after being promised a visa to the states. She had to leave her job in Libya and go to Amman to pick up a visa to the US, but Homeland Security is holding it up for some reason. Now she is running out of funds, and she has two kids and no husband. After reading about the Christian Iraqi family in New Hampshire I wondered if INS takes a closer, longer look at Muslims before giving them visas.

Many bloggers have predicted that Iraq is inevitably, uncontrollably headed toward civil war. Personally I hope that Iraq will avoid civil war, with the help of the US, and I pray that the violence subsides and eventually disappears, so that US troops can come home, and so that Iraqis can live normal lives in Iraq.

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