Iraqi refugees in SLC find differences and similarities

by BRETT PERFILI

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In the spring of 2003, the U.S. government sent in troops to invade Iraq because it was believed the country held weapons of mass destruction. The invasion also aimed to put an end to Suddam Hussein’s support for terrorism and to free the Iraqi people.

Since then, the United States is still there fighting for the freedom of the Iraqi people. However, U.S. troops have been able to capture Iraq’s leader and also see him executed.

Many Iraqi people have fled from their country to avoid persecution, discrimination and even death. Some of the Iraqis who have fled their native country have come to Utah.

Mazen Hamoudi, 32, an Iraqi native, is a doctor in Salt Lake City. Hamoudi said when American troops first arrived in Iraq there were differing feelings toward the soldiers.

“When the American soldiers came during the first few months, most not all, most of the Iraqi people say hello,” Hamoudi said. “But, after three months people started to hate the American soldiers. Americans angered Iraqis because of their behavior.”

Hamoudi did not flee his country as a refugee; he came by choice. He can speak fluent English, which he was taught beginning in the fifth grade. Hamoudi received his medical degree from Baghdad University and decided to come to the United States to avoid the dangers of living in Iraq and also to seek more money.

In late December 2006 Hussein was hung at Camp Justice, an Iraqi army base in a neighborhood of Baghdad. And again, mixed emotions existed among the Iraqi people, Hamoudi said.

“It is difficult to express my emotion,” he said. “He killed people, so he had to be killed, but not by this behavior. I was not happy at the time.”

Hamoudi said he now finds it was the right thing to do, but will always feel that Hussein contributed many positives to his native country.

“I consider him the perpetrator of the Iraqi people,” he said.

Omar Shakir, 40, a patient of Hamoudi’s, feels the same about Hussein, but still is mourning over his execution. Shakir cried after the execution of the Iraqi leader.

Speaking in Arabic, Shakir said he was still very sad.

“Omar thinks as leader and Arabic leader,” said Hamoudi, who translated the conversation.

Before Hussein’s execution U.S. soldiers marched into Firdos Square in Baghdad and pulled down a tall concrete statue of the Iraqi.

This was also a devastating moment, Shakir said.

“From his [Shakir’s] perspective the falling down of the statue all of Iraq was falling down,” Hamoudi said. “I was happy because I did not see the falling of the country. When he fell down I considered Saddam falling down.”

Shakir said he feels the invasion of Iraq by the United States was not a smart move. But, now he fears if U.S. soldiers pull out, there will be a civil war. Shakir feels this would only create larger problems for his country.

Unlike Hamoudi, Shakir was forced from Iraq. He literally was chased out of his country with bullets being fired at him because of his religious beliefs.

Shakir has lived in Utah for four months. He has only recently begun earning a salary for income at the Deseret Industries through the LDS church.

Shakir said language is the biggest barrier for employment at this point. He finds life in the United States frustrating because in his country he was considered a rich man, and in Utah he is not. Shakir was a businessman in Iraq where he owned his own supermarket.

When Shakir arrived from Jordan he was able to bring his wife, Huda Shakir, 33, their son and daughter and his brother, Mahmoud, 32. They are all living in a Salt Lake City apartment on 309 E.  4500 South in the Cottonwood Creek Apartment Community.

Faris Ali, 45, is also a refugee from Iraq who has lived in Utah for four weeks. He lives in the east side of Salt Lake City in an apartment.

Ali has taken a different path to the United States than Shakir. He also holds dissimilar beliefs about Iraq, however, he does find some things in common.

Ali sided with the United States during the 2003 invasion, which is why he left Iraq to come to Utah.

“I was the first Iraqi to go for the United States when America raised for our help,” Ali said in a telephone interview. “I made a pledge to help this country through the good times and the bad times.”

In contrast to Shakir, Ali was not saddened by Hussein’s execution.

“I felt great on that day,” Ali said. “He killed lots of people. He was dangerous to all of the war. He was the biggest terrorist in the war.”

Like Hamoudi, Ali attended Baghdad University. He received a degree in mechanical engineering. He is seeking a job here that will allow him to use his skills. One problem he faces in finding a job with those skills is no social security in the United States.

Right now he is working temporarily as an interpreter at the International Rescue Committee in downtown Salt Lake City. The IRC is an organization helping refugees find housing, employment and medical care.

Ali never plans on returning to Iraq, He considers Utah his home now, he said.

“I forget about my birth country. This is my new one,” Ali said. “I don’t miss anything about my country.”

However, he is still waiting for the arrival of his family within the next year or two.

Shakir and Ali agree that people are very kind and nice in Utah. Neither one said they feel discriminated against because of where they come from.

“They are so friendly, so nice,” Ali said. “Everyone says hi. They are not like this in the Mideast.”

Shakir said in Arabic that the people are very understanding to his origin. One of his initial thoughts entering the United States was Americans would see his culture and religion from the wrong perspective, however, this was not the case.

Still, Shakir hopes to be able to return to Iraq one day.

“He considers his home and country everything,” Hamoudi said.

However, Shakir said there is a lot that needs to be changed before he can go back. If the security changed in Iraq he would go home tomorrow, but he can’t. He would be killed.

With the war still ongoing and Iraqis as well as Americans being killed every day both Shakir and Ali feel blessed to be where they are today. They have families, are able to practice their cultures and are doing everything they can to succeed in a new place.