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Local Iraqis Optimistic About Future For Their Homeland

Local Iraqis Optimistic About Future For Their Homeland
What will the future hold for Iraq now that the U.S. combat mission in that country has ended? We speak to four local Iraqis about the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops, and the biggest challenges currently facing Iraq.

ALISON ST JOHN (Host): You’re listening to These Days here on KPBS in San Diego. I’m Alison St John in for Maureen Cavanaugh. President Obama formally announced last night that the American combat mission in Iraq has ended after seven years of war. It's a momentous time for both the United States and for Iraq. For Americans it feels like the end of something, for Iraqis it’s the beginning of a time of great uncertainty. We're going to take the next hour to talk with four Iraqis who now live right here in San Diego. And we’d also like to hear from you, so if you would like to join our conversation please give us a call and the number is 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. So let’s get started and introduce our guests today. We have in studio with us Camilia Sadik. Camilia, thanks so much for being here.

CAMILIA SADIK (Founder, Spell-City): Thank you.

ST JOHN: And Camilia’s an active member of the local Chaldean community in El Cajon. She’s a linguist, and the founder of Spell-City English Spelling School. She’s lived in the United States for 38 years, but you’ve been traveling backwards and forwards to Iraq very frequently in that time.

SADIK: Specifically since 2003.

ST JOHN: Yes, which, of course, is a significant time when Saddam was ousted. Then we have Kusay Alsafi, who is of the Muslim faith, a Shia, and who has lived in San Diego for five years. Although you left the country back in 1980. So, Kusay, thanks so much for joining us this morning.

KUSAY ALSAFI (San Diegan): Thank you for having me.

ST JOHN: Then Arkan, who is a local San Diego business owner and a member of the San Diego's Chaldean community, a very large community. And Arkan left Iraq in 1982. Arkan, thank you for being here.

ARKAN SOMO (Business Owner): Thank you for inviting me.

ST JOHN: And finally, Aws Abdullah, who is a volunteer with – I beg your pardon, Aws Abdullah, who is a volunteer with Kurdish Human Rights Watch in El Cajon. Now Aws moved to San Diego less than two years ago. But you were born in Iraq and you actually witnessed the U.S. invasion in Iraq firsthand.

AWS ABDULLAH (Volunteer, Kurdish Human Rights Watch): Yes, I did. Yes, I did.

ST JOHN: Thank you.

ABDULLAH: Thank you.

ST JOHN: And we’d also like to welcome you to the conversation so remember you can join us at 888-895-5727. So let’s start with the words that President Obama spoke last night, which was kind of an official ending of the conflict, at least the combat section of the America’s mission in Iraq. What did you think about – did he address the issues that you wanted him to address? What was your reaction to his speech?

SOMO: Well, for me…

ST JOHN: Arkan.

SOMO: …it’s another good speech by President Obama, we all expected. There are some good things of the speech that I really like. For instance, he recognizes our brave man and woman for the great job they’ve done in Iraq. That was something I like hearing. He also admitted, even though he was against it at that time that the surge actually work. Not only did he say that, recognized, but he also stated that he would use the same tactics in Afghanistan and, hopefully, will have the same result. And also he stated also, in very clear terms, that he would like to keep our military strong, and that was to me was refreshing to hear from President Obama.

ST JOHN: The Iraqi military.

SOMO: Actually, no, our military.

ST JOHN: Oh, the U.S. military.

SOMO: The U.S. military.

ST JOHN: You were speaking for this country.

SOMO: Now the only thing that I was hoping he will say and I did not hear him say in clear terms, which is we are victorious in Iraq. We won the war in Iraq. I did not hear enough emphasis on that. I really – I believe that our brave men and women, okay, that fought this long war in Iraq did accomplish every mission they were given. We give them first to topple Saddam regime and they did it. Then we asked them to do nation building and start helping Iraqis to build their own country and they did it. We asked them to train Iraqi military so they can take care of their own selves and they did it. And here we are, we take the last military forces back to the United States and we did not tell them that they were victorious. And I wish he would’ve done that.

ST JOHN: So that’s a perspective from Arkan. I don’t know, Kusay, you may or may not have a similar kind of a feeling that really everything was accomplished. Was it mission accomplished, do you think?

ALSAFI: Actually, I would disagree with Mr. Arkan. Although we like to hear victorious always, especially the new conservators of us, this would make us happy even if it’s not true. But based on what we are victorious? I mean, I admire the sacrifice of our military in Iraq and everything they’ve done. They couldn’t be better. But based on the goals that the last administration put, we’re not victorious. That’s why I think Obama understood this even before he became president. During his campaign, he said, we can win the war in Iraq if we change the goals. I mean, the goal is to establish democracy in Iraq. And there was promise that Iraqis will have a better life but now there’s no electricity, there’s still terrorist attacks. Civilians are terrified, especially after our military left Iraq. And…

ST JOHN: So what would victory have been – how would you define victory if it had been achieved?

ALSAFI: I mean, I define victory based on what we set, goals, I mean, our goals, as I said…

ST JOHN: Umm-hmm.

ALSAFI: …the last administration is to establish democracy and this is a very complicated issue and…

ST JOHN: That is, indeed, a very complicated issue.

ALSAFI: Yeah, I…

ST JOHN: Camilia, what do you think about the – where – how far is Iraq towards the road to democracy?

SADIK: Well, going back to President Obama’s speech…


SADIK: It was too short and he was very careful with his words, as usual. The reason that is – it is this way, it’s usually this way. He’s very careful because Republican agencies—I don’t call them a Republican Party anyway, by the way—take things out of context and change the truth to disturb the truth to brainwash people. So I’m here to say what Obama could not say.

ST JOHN: Well, you’ve got the microphone here. What do you think should’ve been said.

SADIK: He should have said that – I’m very direct, okay? And I’ll stay this way. I don’t know, I’m not…

ST JOHN: Thanks for preparing us, Camilia.

SADIK: That he should have said that George Bush did not go into Iraq to help Americans or Iraqis. He went in there to help Halliburton and few other corporations like Lockheed Martin, Blackwater, L-3 Communications, to become wealthier, which he probably owns. By the way, Lockheed Martin, I looked up their CEO and his name happens to be Michael Bush, and he’s in Florida. So…

ST JOHN: So you are someone who’s actually been backwards and forwards and worked as a translator for the American forces a lot.

SADIK: I worked as an advisor and as a teacher as well.

ST JOHN: Okay.


ST JOHN: And your perspective is that the whole thing has been about corporate profits.

SADIK: About corporate – because people don’t pay attention to the fact that war has been privatized. And George Bush, I charge him as a warhawk, that Obama couldn’t say this. He was looking for wars to make profits. And I charge him specifically with the killing of 4500 American troops, 60,000 wounded American troops, 30,000 of whom are seriously wounded with amputated legs or arms or brain damage, one hundred to two hundred thousand Iraqis that died, and some say it’s a million. We don’t know the number. And I also charge him with robbing the American treasury, with robbing our money. We don’t have a recession. We have someone, a group of people, a mob, that robbed us and…

ST JOHN: So now you…

SADIK: …make America poor. I…

ST JOHN: Right.

SADIK: …speak from both perspectives, as Iraqi and an American…

ST JOHN: I wanted to clarify that.


ST JOHN: It’s important to know that you are from Iraq but you feel yourself very strongly as an American.

SADIK: Yes, I…

ST JOHN: So when you say ‘us,’ you’re talking about America so…

SADIK: Yes, yes.

ST JOHN: Yeah.

SADIK: Thank you.

ST JOHN: So let me just quote a couple of lines that he did say last night. You know, he said he hoped that this was a time to help Iraq seize the chance for a better future. Iraq has the opportunity to face a new destiny. I mean, I think everything that you’ve said is – we’ve read those figures and that’s true. It’s good to sum up the suffering that has gone on. What do you think about the chance for Iraq to seize a better future now as a result of what’s happened over the last seven years?

SADIK: Well, people have mixed feelings. I even interviewed some Iraqis, local Iraqis, but I’m not in Iraq, you know. I’m hoping to leave this answer to Kusay. But, briefly, people are worried about security, next – who the next government will be. If it’s Iran’s going to come in and rule them. They have many mixed feelings. At the same time, it’s a good – it’s a positive move that the troops, the combat troops, have came – are coming back because Iraq has to depend on itself at some point. It may hit rock bottom with violence and kidnapping and bombing but in the end it will go up. It has to go up.

ST JOHN: 888-895-5727 is the number if you would like to join the conversation. So let’s just throw the question to Aws here from Kurdish Human Rights Watch. What chance do you think there is of Iraq seizing this opportunity for a better future?

ABDULLAH: Well, we hit the bottom in 2005, 2006. Those were the worst years on Iraqis. I was there and I just left Iraq in 2009. Killing and bombing at that time was at its peak. And things get better after that and it is slowly getting better and better. From time to time, when we have a political event like an election or – you know, an interior election for managing a particular area, we have – let’s say the ratio of the violence go up but that was – this is temporary. When these events end…

ST JOHN: Umm-hmm.

ABDULLAH: …things go back to the slowly improvement.

ST JOHN: You feel that – And, by the way, you are the one – Is it true to say that you are the one who was in Iraq most recently?


ST JOHN: Okay, the four of us – So you got this feeling that there is a gradual movement away from the violence toward something new.

ABDULLAH: Yes. You can feel that in the elections. There is different in the first election we had and the second one. And I think the same different will appear in the third election. People, in the beginning, didn’t know democracy. We lived under Saddam dictatorship for 35 years. It’s a very heavy legacy. So people, when they go to vote the first time in 2004, I guess, was for – they voted for their cousin, for their…

ST JOHN: Umm. Someone they knew.

ABDULLAH: …religious – Yeah, someone they knew. Perfection and efficiency wasn’t a motive for people to vote and that lead to a disaster. The worst government came after that. It was a religious, it was a very – Yeah.

ST JOHN: So a lot of factions. Yeah.

ABDULLAH: Exactly. But things become better in the second election when people realized that this is not the real motives. It’s improved very, very slowly. Very – I mean, you cannot even notice it if you don’t live there and, you know, just listen to people, how they react for political events.

ST JOHN: Well, let’s just stay on the subject of elections for a minute because I know that even although you’re in the United States, you are able to participate in elections, correct? Did all of you participate?



ABDULLAH: No, not – not for me.

ST JOHN: Okay.

ABDULLAH: I’m not a citizen yet.

SADIK: No, in the Iraqi…

ST JOHN: I meant in the Iraqi elections.

ABDULLAH: In Iraq, yes. Yes.

ST JOHN: So you were able to participate in the Iraqi elections…


ST JOHN: …even though you were here. How – I mean, it’s hard enough for people who live in this country to figure out what all the candidates stand for. How were you able to decide, you know, how to vote? Surely you would, again, be going back to the people that you knew. Arkan.

SOMO: Yeah, well, actually I like what Aws said. He is absolutely correct. But, see, that is what’s so wonderful about the new freedom in Iraq. See, democracy is not a perfect thing. Democracy is messy sometimes. I mean, look at our history. Here in the United States, we didn’t have a perfect history in the last 200 – I mean, two centuries. We had some messy. We had wars. We had the Civil Wars (sic). But we have to recognize the accomplishment that the Iraqi people have done. I mean, you know, some of us don’t remember but if you go back in history, it took us in this country 12 years to ratify our Constitution. It took Iraqis one year, see. Nobody expected in Iraq will have Jeffersorian (sic) democracy from the get-go. But the beauty of it, they are learning how to compromise. They’re learning how to work together, and that’s really what is so wonderful about it. And, you know what, as somebody who’s watched politics and been very involved, heavy in the last 15 years, I got to make two comment, one of them with Kusay about electricity. It is not the job of the United States military to restore electricity. That’s the job of the Iraqi government who was elected in democracy and that’s their job. And as far as the allegation that the other guest said about George W. and the killing, you know what, I’ve heard that on cable TV, to be specific on MSNBC, those who are very critical of George W. And as somebody who’s an American citizen, who love this country deeply, I vehemently reject these allegation because they are not true. If you look what we’ve done in Iraq, we saved the Iraqis from a ruthless dictator who…

SADIK: May I stop you one second? We are, all four of us, agreed that Saddam had to be ousted.

SOMO: Is this Camilia?


ST JOHN: That is one thing you all have in common.


ST JOHN: Yeah.


ST JOHN: And we need to take a break at this point so – But that’s a good point that however much you may have a slightly different perspective on what’s happened and what could happen, you all agree that it was a good thing that Saddam was ousted. 888-895-5727 is the number to call if you have a perspective on – Really, we’re sort of, I think, looking more at the future here. You know, this is a starting point, I think, for people who are concerned about what happens in Iraq. And we have a very large community here in San Diego who all have strong opinions and who really want to perhaps have a say in this. So we’ll be right back after the break with Camilia Sadik, Aws Abdullah, Kusay Alsafi and Arkan Somo.

ST JOHN: And you’re back here on These Days on KPBS, talking a bit about the future possibilities for Iraq now that the United States has officially ended its combat mission there. And we have in studio with us four members of San Diego’s Iraqi community. We have Kusay Alsafi of the Muslim faith, a Shia who’s lived here since – just for five years. We have Aws Abdullah, a volunteer with Kurdish Human Rights Watch, Camilia Sadik, who’s an active member of the local Chaldean community, and also Arkan Somo, who is also a member of the Chaldean community. So we were just talking before the break – Oh, and by the way, I really want to give out the phone numbers and invite you, the listener, to join us if you would like to. The number is 888-895-5727. So we were just talking before the break and Arkan was talking about whether people feel like what the United States did was an invasion or a liberation, and sort of different attitudes to what’s been happening for the last seven years. And, Kusay, you said you wanted to make a comment about that.

ALSAFI: Well, about this question I would say definitely it’s liberation because we were under a horrible, terrifying tyrant before that. But I would like to respond to Mr. Arkan. When I talked about democracy, I didn’t set this goal, I mean, the last administration set this goal. And I agree with him that democracy is coming gradually and it’s developing now. But I just don’t want to talk on this complicated issue in details because we don’t have time, I think, for that.

ST JOHN: Just an hour.

ALSAFI: But, in brief, we have to differentiate between two things as a base for democracy. The philosophy and thoughts that we inherited starting with Magna Carta, John Locke, John ‘Jack’ Rowe, so the founding fathers. This legacy…

ST JOHN: You’re really going back.

ALSAFI: This legacy is not anymore Western in legacy, it’s now world culture, world heritage. So this phase is available in Iraq. But the other part which I think Mr. Arkan referred to as the experience, yes, we inherited, you know, from the Ottoman Empire to the British Empire to a series of military coups that ended with the horrible Ba’ath Party, a party which…

ST JOHN: So you’ve been under sort of dominating regimes for cen – dominating kind of political regimes for centuries, is what you’re saying.

ALSAFI: Yeah, but I think first I would admit that the major blame would lie on Iraqi officials, of course. But in the same time, I would say that the last administration should have a consistent, solid plan when they set the goal.

ST JOHN: So are you saying that in some ways – I’m not quite clear whether you’re saying that the goal was kind of imposed by the United States.

ALSAFI: Exactly.

ST JOHN: A definition of democracy that may not fit this country.

ALSAFI: Exactly. Exactly. They should’ve studied the structure of the society and how to deal with the society, its different cultures.

ST JOHN: How would you say – and then we’ll just go to a call right after this. How would you define what democracy should be in Iraq?

ALSAFI: Well, I think democracy is one democracy. I don’t mean that Iraq is not ready to adopt the Western democracy because it’s one democracy.

ST JOHN: Okay.

ALSAFI: I don’t have this illusion that we have a special democracy or not because, as I said, it’s the world heritage. But the – I mean, building the – building democracy should be based on the understanding of that society and how to deal carefully with its culture.

ST JOHN: What you’ve been through.

ALSAFI: So what I was suggesting that in Iraq, the democracy should be gradual but what happened – what happened, they impose it and they were very, very, you know, in a rush to…

ST JOHN: Got it, got it.

ALSAFI: …impose democracy…

ST JOHN: And a little bit, you’re saying the same kind of thing…

ALSAFI: …which created mess.

ST JOHN: …as Aws. That it is happening slowly…


ST JOHN: …but the expectations were that it should happen…

ALSAFI: Exactly. And about the electricity…

ST JOHN: Oh, well, now just before you go on…

ALSAFI: Oh, sorry.

ST JOHN: …we have a few people who would like to join the conversation here and I’d like to invite Alex from Rancho Bernardo. Alex, thanks for calling. What is your point? Your perspective?

ALEX (Caller, Rancho Bernardo): Well, my point, I – My point on this, I think your guests live in a nice dream. I look at Iraq as the next Yugoslavia. You know, and Saddam, even though he was a bad guy, I look at him like a dictator. In about five, ten years in Iraq, there going to be such a bloodshed that it going to make, you know – it going to be such a bad, bad situation that, you know, these people wish they had Saddam back. And it – either party, the Shia, the Sunni, the Chaldeans, they will, you know, ask for a dictator, you know, and it’ll be too late them.

ST JOHN: So, Alex…

ALEX: Yeah.

ST JOHN: …just to – for full disclosure, are you – do you have connections to Iraq yourself?

ALEX: I’m – I’m around the neighborhood from there.

ST JOHN: Okay.

ALEX: And I studied the history. And sometimes in some cultures, you know, they don’t need democracy. Even United States, we don’t – we don’t have a democracy. We’re a Republic. So…

ST JOHN: And so you’re suggesting democracy, that it’s not – that Iraq is not ready really for democracy in the traditional sense of it and that you’re afraid of bloodshed.

ALEX: Oh, it will be. And it won’t be – I mean, some cultures, there’s – I mean, democracy doesn’t go well with the beliefs of the culture.

ST JOHN: Okay, so that’s – that’s a very interesting perspective, Alex, and thank you so much for bringing – introducing it into the conversation here. Camilia, what’s your reaction to that?

SADIK: Well, my reaction is that we may have a bloodshed like he said. We may not. And – But never, never will we change our minds about the ousting of Saddam. Never will we say let’s have Saddam back.

ST JOHN: You don’t want to go back to the autocratic…

SADIK: Never. Never. Iraq was in a bloodbath…


SADIK: …and we had to have someone to pull us out of that bath.

ST JOHN: So though Alex is saying that there will be – he’s afraid that there will be a…


ST JOHN: …bloodbath because of the factions and that it’s safer to have somebody who is autocratic but you’re saying…

SADIK: Never like – never like Saddam. Never.

ST JOHN: Okay.

SADIK: We’ll never go back and say that.

ST JOHN: But do you agree at all with Alex that there was a risk of more bloodshed, more violence before you…

SADIK: Yes, I agree.

ST JOHN: You do agree. Yeah.

SADIK: I agree. But we’ll bounce back. This is how reality is. In the end something is – at least now, there is a beginning to an end.

ST JOHN: Arkan.

SOMO: You know what, it’s funny listening to Alex. You know, we had a bloodshed in this country, civil wars, and we emerge a stronger country and we emerge a better country for it. So having a bloodshed in Iraq, it will never compare to the bloodshed that was under Saddam. And see, as you see, we have pretty strong opinions, the four of us, but in the green room, we all agreed it was a good thing that we got rid of Saddam.

ST JOHN: Umm-hmm. But now we’re really looking to the future and I think, you know, that is the basis on which everybody can stand. It’s a good thing you got rid of Saddam but what next? Aws.

ABDULLAH: Well, let me just say something very clearly. I don’t think anyone in this room or in Iraq who don’t consider getting rid of Saddam was a good thing but here’s the thing. I was living in Iraq and I heard a lot of Iraqis whom, due to the circumstances now, saying – could say life under Saddam age was better. But why? There’s the thing. Now when we read the history we can understand that it’s require the French maybe a hundred year after the revolution…

ST JOHN: Umm-hmm.

ABDULLAH: …to build a Constitution and to build a state and apart from government. During that time there was a lot of bloodshed, unjustice, and a lot of people who were living at that time could say before the revolution it was better.


ABDULLAH: But after everything was settled down, everyone agree that this is what we wanted from the beginning. Now we are in a transaction period.

ST JOHN: Transition, yeah.

ABDULLAH: Transition period, sorry. So there is a lot of bad thing in Iraq now. Going back is not an option. We have to go through it. We have to bear it. And we have to emerge, as my friend has said, stronger.

ST JOHN: Speaking of going back, I know you were talking about historically going back but are any of you feeling confident about going back to the country in the near future? A little bit of a silence. Arkan?

SOMO: I would love to. Actually, I can’t wait for the day to take my four kids back home and show them, you know, the elementary school that I went to and the high school and show them their, you know…

ST JOHN: But would you do that in the next year?

SOMO: Oh, I would love to.

ST JOHN: You would love to but would you?

SOMO: Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah, why not?

ST JOHN: Why not? Okay.

SOMO: This is something – Yeah. And, by the way, things are getting better in Iraq.

ST JOHN: Umm-hmm.

SOMO: I mean, one thing – We’re talking about the bad things. I just want to give you an example how a situation economically in Iraq progress. Before the liberation of Iraq, I remember there was this community in Iraq, the houses – the value of the house was somewhere between $5,000 to $10,000. Right now, the same houses in the same neighborhood, they are going between $50,000 to $100,000. That is an indication that people…

ST JOHN: That’s okay.

SOMO: Absolutely. That is an indication people have faith in the future of Iraq. And, you know what, let’s not make no mistake about it, the shape of Iraq, it’s yet to be shaped, and the only entity’s going to shape it is the Iraqi people, not the military, not the U.S. military.

ST JOHN: That’s right. And you’re a businessman. That’s a very interesting perspective. You look at the price of houses there…

SOMO: Of course.

ST JOHN: …and that tells us something. Camilia and then we’ll just go to a call.

SADIK: Yes, I would go back to Iraq. In fact, I’m leaving in three weeks to Iraq.

ST JOHN: Oh, you are?

SADIK: And my dream was to go back to Iraq and rebuild Iraq and I tried during Bremer but no one listened. People were not interested. Paul Bremer was not interested in rebuilding Iraq like we think here.

ST JOHN: Do you think that now if you went back there might be people more ready to listen to the ideas you have about education?

SADIK: No, because the government in Iraq right now is not really a government. It’s just a form of a government. It looks like a government. It’s corrupt. It’s a mess. So I’m going to Iraq to do my own business, you know…

ST JOHN: Independent of the government.

SADIK: …for a few – Yeah, for a few weeks, I will…

ST JOHN: But you do feel like there’s enough stability that you can go back at this point to do something there.

SADIK: I am a risk taker.

ST JOHN: Aha, okay.

SADIK: Otherwise, I wouldn’t say what I said on the radio now.

ST JOHN: This is true.


ST JOHN: So you are going back but it could be a risk.


ST JOHN: Let’s go to Jerry who’s calling us from Bankers Hill. Jerry, thank you for calling These Days. Go ahead with your perspective.

JERRY (Caller, Bankers Hill): Thanks for taking my call. I’m concerned about the future of democracy. Democracy is not just a matter of having elections. It requires the government to be willing to step down if they lose an election. So far, there’s been an election but there hasn’t been a change in government and I don’t know if there’s going to be. What are the prospects for a continued actual democracy where there are results of elections and people abide by the results?

ST JOHN: As in life, it’s often harder to let go. That’s so true. Is there anyone…? Aws, you’re nodding to Jerry’s comment there.

ABDULLAH: Well, my friend here make a very – made a very good point earlier, that imposing democracy was the biggest mistake American did – America did in Iraq. I mean, those people, the Iraqis—I am one of them, of course—were living in 35 years legacy of dictatorship. And if you go back and back, we were living in such a dictatorship for 5,000 years.

ST JOHN: So but what would’ve been the alternatives, Aws, to…

ABDULLAH: Yeah, I’m coming to that. In my humble opinion, the American should first invade or come or liberate, whatever. Anyway, they should control Iraq and continue controlling Iraq for at least ten years.


ABDULLAH: Just put someone who is just and powerful in the authority, in the government, to rule Iraq and this time, in this ten years, they should go to the schools, to the universities, to teach the Iraqis to let them understand what is democracy. They have to practice democracy in home and in school, and after that, after ten years maybe, the first election should come.

ST JOHN: Oh, okay. So that’s Aws, who’s with Kurdish Human Rights Watch. And, Kusay, what do you think about that? Should America be taking the place of…

ALSAFI: Well, first…

ST JOHN: …an autocratic dictatorship for ten years?

ALSAFI: First, I would like to answer Alex.

ST JOHN: Alex’s point, yes.

ALSAFI: That he said we are living in a nice…

ST JOHN: A dream.

ALSAFI: …dream. Actually, I just want to say we’re not living a nice dream but we emerged from a nightmare. So I think this fact – who never experienced the tyranny of Saddam Hussein can’t understand it. And…

ST JOHN: And you personally, you had to flee, is that correct?

ALSAFI: Yeah, yeah.

ST JOHN: Because of being a Shia and your…


ST JOHN: So you were very personally affected and, of course, we have to…

ALSAFI: And to…

ST JOHN: …be…

ALSAFI: Oh, sorry.

ST JOHN: …aware that whoever calls in also – everybody has got a perspective here.

ALSAFI: Yeah, sure.

ST JOHN: But Alex’s perspective that a government would have to be ready to step down, I mean, do you have any kind of a reaction to that? Is – Because politically you have to be perhaps more sophisticated to be willing, not just to fight for power but also to step down when the people speak.

ALSAFI: Yeah, in response to Mr. Aws, I don’t think this is a good plan that America would control the country. But they were supposed and that was expected to empower the secular factions and we have a very good secular thinkers and politicians and – But, unfortunately, they were abandoned and, for some reason, the power was given to politicians who are unwilling to serve the country so what I think the plan should be, first, to establish good government, not to dismantle the whole army because the army wasn’t for Saddam himself, it was, you know, both…

ST JOHN: This is again looking back…


ST JOHN: …to the mistake that was made back in 2003.

ALSAFI: Yeah, because Aws took me back, I had to talk about the beginning…

ST JOHN: Yeah.

ALSAFI: …of the invasion, of how Bremer and Garner, that would be the situation. They insecure the borders. They let the Al Qaeda to infiltrate inside the country and gutter themselves. They dismantled the army and so many people in the army found themselves in the streets so they organized with Al Qaeda and cooperate with the terrorists. And they let the neighbor countries to interfere in Iraq.

ST JOHN: So your point is not that, like Aws is saying, that the United States should have perhaps put in perhaps, I don’t know, a puppet…


ST JOHN: …kind of dictator but that they should not have dismantled the structure for controlling chaos that was already there.

ALSAFI: And the state – how would that – Why would I dismantle the state…

ST JOHN: Well, Arkan, I mean, would it have been…

ALSAFI: …and start from scratch?

SOMO: You know, act…

ST JOHN: …possible to keep the army and not go back?

SOMO: Actually, what Aws wanted to say was that Saddam was very powerful and ruthless dictator. He eliminated every opposition. When we removed him, literally overnight, that created a huge vacuum. And what Aws wanted to say that maybe we could have done a better job in staying a little bit. But I can assure you, he’s not really advocating that we will be the replacement for Saddam. That’s not – And I agree with that. That’s why Iraqis have to step up and they have to take the responsibility of their own destiny in their own country. But the question that Aws has, in my opinion, is what is the role of the United States now…

ST JOHN: That’s right.

SOMO: …from here go. And, you know, some of us – I mean, as an American citizen, I don’t want us to completely leave for exactly these situation. Here we are after the election and they’re still debating and arguing and trying to find out how can we put this government together? And, you know what, in one side, you say why aren’t they getting it? But the other side, they are young. It’s like having a two-year-old and you expect them to run a marathon. They’re two-year-old, for God’s sake. They need the time to learn that – how to compromise. And, you know what, at the end of the day, they will compromise. Just imagine if we, the Americans, or the international community will dictate so-and-so will be in that government. How would the Iraqi people feel about that?


SOMO: I’d rather see them struggle. I’d rather see them come up with their own resolution to decide how it’s going to work. And, you know what, they will compromise at the end of the day, and they will learn that.

ST JOHN: Well, that’s what the country is facing now, isn’t it? 888-895-5727, once again, 888-895-KPBS. We’ll be back right after this break with four members of the America-Iraqi community here in San Diego.

ST JOHN: And you’re back on These Days with me, Alison St John, sitting in for Maureen Cavanaugh. And in studio we have four members of the San Diego American-Iraqi community, Camilia Sadik, who is with the Chaldean community, Arkan Somo, also a Chaldean, Kusay Alsafi of the Muslim faith, a Shia, and Aws Abdullah who’s with Kurdish Human Rights Watch. We have quite a few people on the line who’d like to join the conversation so let’s invite Mark from Spring Valley. Mark, thank you so much for calling These Days. Go ahead.

MARK (Caller, Spring Valley): Hi. Hi, thank you for giving me the time. I have to say I agree with Camilia on the fact that the war was wrong and it was based on lies and it was a profit motivation. And I do disagree, though, with removing Saddam was a good thing. It’s really not our job to be removing dictators around the world. That’s not our job, that’s the job of the people in that country. We’ve lost a lot on this whole profit thing. We’ve lost – we’re losing our democracy here. And what we really needed to do is have justice. At the end of any war, usually you have trials, trials to find out who the criminals were and – And basically going into war against a country that didn’t attack us, didn’t have any reason to attack us, and we had no fly zones over it and we were doing all sorts of terrible financial things to the country and yet…

ST JOHN: Who are you suggesting we put on trial, Mark?

MARK: Well, I believe the liars that brought us into this war. We all know that it was based on lies and false documents and stuff like that. We need to have trials…

ST JOHN: Okay, so, Mark…

MARK: …to find out where these things came from and why they were created and why people believed that it was necessary to go in there.

ST JOHN: So, Mark, that’s a very interesting perspective, and I wanted to ask you what you thought about what seems to be the unanimous consensus here that they would like to see the United States remaining for a while longer to help, you know, establish the stability…

MARK: Correct.

ST JOHN: …for a very fledgling democracy to get going. How do you feel about that?

MARK: Well, we do have a real danger here because, you know, it is time for us to leave because we really shouldn’t have our troops in there but we also shouldn’t have large security forces in there with – Who’s going to be controlling them? You know, the Xes or the Blackwaters or whatever that are going to stay behind. And do we really know what they’re doing?

ST JOHN: Yes, Mark…


ST JOHN: …thank you very much for that. So, Camilia, since you’re the one that brought up the issue of the whole thing being for corporate interests, I mean, what do you see the situation is now? As the military withdraws where does the country stand in regard to, you know, the business structure? Who’s making the profits? What’s the opportunity for…?

SADIK: It’s an open-end at this time. People are – have mixed feelings and things are going to be unknown. However, I want to say something that’s positive. A couple things I thought positive about what is happening now. And one of them is the continuation of the war was against American people, not the war itself so much in the beginning. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t, but the continuation for all these years, it was a war mainly against American people. The positive aspect here is that these corporations are going to stop or rob less, steal less money, from American people. Less troops are going to be killed, so that’s a positive thing. One positive thing in Iraq, which is a serious one, too, that the closing of the 150 bases and facilities would lessen the traffic jams in Iraq. I know we hear about the electricity, water and other services but no one talks about the traffic jam. These bases, military bases, are huge in Iraq and people have to – Imagine a person waking up in the morning, swimming in their sweats because there’s no electricity. It’s very hot. They cannot take a shower. And having to go to work and be bitten by mosquitoes all night.

ST JOHN: Well, that’s interesting because we haven’t really talked about just the reality of living in Iraq, on the ground, you know, and how it’s changed since before 2003. I mean, you’re describing a situation that’s very uncomfortable. The electricity isn’t there, and yet I’m…

SADIK: And have to take – having to take different routes to go to work…

ST JOHN: Yeah.

SADIK: …in this situation. And imagine, if we don’t take a shower one day here in America, everything stops.

ST JOHN: But I’m reading statistics here that suggest that there’s a lot more electricity now and a lot more water supplies than there are – than there used to be before. And yet I’m a little unclear as to whether, in fact, the infrastructure that is obviously not, not really in place yet but is it – was it destroyed so it’s less good, the water and electricity, now than it was before 2003? Or was it just that expectations are higher? Anyone? Aws.

ABDULLAH: Well, you’re talking about before 2003? Or – or…?

ST JOHN: Well, the fact is now there’s a lot of complaints that, you know, there’s power outages, there’s water shortages, people are, you know, sweating.


ST JOHN: It’s really hot over there, so much more difficult than it would be even here. But was it better back before 2003?


ST JOHN: It was?

ABDULLAH: It was. It was.

ST JOHN: So then when we see all these statistics about electricity, May 2003: 500 megawatts were generated nationwide. August 2010: 5,000 megawatts are generated nationwide. It looks like water, 2003: 12 million people had potable water. 2010, more than 21 million people have potable water.

ABDULLAH: I don’t know from where you get these statistics.

ST JOHN: Okay.

ABDULLAH: But, in general, it will…

ST JOHN: Compiled by the EPA.

ABDULLAH: …it will depend on what area you’re talking about.

ST JOHN: Oh, okay.

ABDULLAH: There is area in Baghdad is – have much more electricity than other – and there is regions in Iraq which have no water or electricity at all. I mean, that will depend. Maybe these statistics are only for the Green Zone, I don’t know.

ST JOHN: Okay. Kusay, what would you say?

ALSAFI: I don’t think so. There’s a point that is missing here by people when they talk about terrorism, when they talk about these services, everything, because there’s continuation from Saddam era. Even the terrorism and the killing, now is continue, is done by Saddam loyalists, not only Al Qaeda, but people miss that. Back to the electricity and water, yes, there is more production but there is more demand, that’s why. It’s clear that there is a crisis over there but there’s a lot – probably the demand is tripled…

ST JOHN: Umm-hmm.

ALSAFI: …because people weren’t allowed to have a lot of things and weren’t able to buy things like air-conditions (sic) and these things but now they have air-condition in every room. So we have to take this into account. I mean…

ST JOHN: So expectations have changed, you think…

ALSAFI: Yeah, sure.

ST JOHN: …very much.

SOMO: Let me try to answer that, Alison.

ST JOHN: Okay.

SOMO: We have, really, and Kusay just kind of touch upon that. We have forgot that there are element in Iraq, the insurgency, the Al Qaeda, the Ba’athists like Aws said, they are attempting, since day one, to sabotage our success in Iraq. I mean, that’s something that we kind of have not touch upon that. And this is an ongoing thing. I remember, you know, my brother was – I had two brothers still in Iraq, they come back and forth. They said as soon as they put pipe, as soon as they install it, and all of a sudden everybody’s happy in that community that the water’s coming. And overnight, it’s bombed again, so they have to start all over again. So make no mistake about it. There are still attempt, as Kusay just said, today for element within the borders of Iraq trying to sabotage this newborn democracy. And they will continue attempt that for two reasons. Number one, to thinking that they’re going to defeat the United States in the Middle East and, secondly, they wanted chaos. See, when there’s chaos, as we see in Afghanistan and sometimes in Pakistan, you see this element work better because there is no rule of law. And I believe we got to recognize that.

ST JOHN: So do you feel – I mean, Aws was talking about the history and in France, you know, the decades that it took to bring democracy to fruition. I mean, do you – how do you feel about the coming decade in Iraq where you’ve got maybe 50,000 troops and a government that is really – how would you describe the government? I mean, do they have – how much control do they actually have over the situation to keep it safe? You’re all looking a bit…

ALSAFI: You know, because you say…

ST JOHN: Kusay.

ALSAFI: …control, I mean, that is a key word. You know, the way you look at control in this, do they have a complete control of what’s going on on the ground? Obviously, based on the news we’re getting, no, not complete control because there is what we’ve just said, the element they’re trying to sabotage that. Are they progressing? Are they learning? Are they adding more accomplishment and trying to put the country together? Absolutely. Are they there yet? No, it’s an ongoing process. And that’s why – I think that’s what Aws was trying to say, that it’s going to take some time and we have to be a little bit more patient.


ABDULLAH: I’m not very comfortable to talk – to talk about control when I talk about the Iraqi government because I think that the Iraqi government members are part of the problem. You see, I will go back a little bit to the history now. I was there in 2003 when the American troops came in Iraq. I saw Iraqis welcoming the American troops with flowers. I saw American tanks stand in the middle of the streets and soldiers get down to drink tea with Iraqis in the middle of the district. I saw that with my eyes.

SADIK: Yes, yes.

ABDULLAH: Everyone was waving.

SADIK: It’s true.

ABDULLAH: What happened? What happened that led to the situation we have now? One great big mistake, in my humble opinion. When America decided to bring the Iraqi corrupted politician from around the world, those who opposed Saddam in the past, to form the new government, those people came to Iraq with different agenda, every one of them serving different country, have his own agenda. And the problem is that when they didn’t agree with each other in the Parliament they took this disagreement to the streets. They start to bomb each other, to kill each other. The Shiites has a militia, the Sunni has a militia, the Kurdish has a militia. Maybe only the poor Chaldean has no militia, I don’t know.

ST JOHN: No, that’s true.

ABDULLAH: Anyway, everyone there has a militia and they are fighting each other in the streets. If you add to that Al Qaeda…

ST JOHN: Right.

ABDULLAH: …and the Ba’athists, well, you have Iraq now.

ST JOHN: So you’ve painted a pretty dramatic picture of, you know, the situation but I guess the question is here you are now, poised, really, looking at the future, and, you know, what – so is that still the situation? That it’s just a bunch of factions and there’s really no chance of anybody – I wanted to go back to what you said right at the beginning, Aws, where you talked about how it’s – slowly, people are realizing with elections it’s not a matter…


ST JOHN: …of voting for somebody that you know, your neighbor down the street.


ST JOHN: What is beginning to happen?

ABDULLAH: It was me who brought this particularity, that everything is going slowly, improving.

ST JOHN: Yeah.

ABDULLAH: Well, yes. That’s why I said in the beginning that we have – that imposing democracy was a mistake, that’s why I said we need time. We need time. Maybe 25 – another 25 years. Without the Americans, okay, no problem. Americans cannot – can withdraw and we will own – But this is my idea. Those politicians here are corrupted and they will be part of the problem. And the people will realize that slowly and slowly. They will give sacrifices but they will – every year, they will recognize more and they will do more and…

ST JOHN: And leaders need to emerge.


ST JOHN: That will…

ABDULLAH: Yeah, that – those…

ST JOHN: …be the kind of leader that you’re looking for.

ABDULLAH: …those good leaders will eventually born and lead.

ST JOHN: Umm-hmm.

ABDULLAH: So after 25 years maybe, or 30 years, things will get much, much better.

ST JOHN: Okay, I’m afraid we’ve pretty much come to the end of our time. I think we need to wrap it up but a very interesting discussion and I want to thank all of you for being here and willing to share your points of view so openly. Camilia Sadik, who’s with the Chaldean community, Arkan Somo, also with the Chaldean community. We also had Aws Abdullah with Kurdish Rights Watch, and

Kusay Alsafi who is a Shia and who has lived here for five years. So a good perspective, a good broad cross section of perspectives and really just opening up, you know, a discussion that this really is just a beginning, isn’t it? Yeah.

ALSAFI: It’s just…

ST JOHN: Thank you so much for coming in and thank those of you who called, and thank you for listening to These Days…

ABDULLAH: Thank you.

SADIK: Thank you.


SOMO: Thank you.