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Peace worker says leave Iraq

Sami Rasouli, an Iraqi-born U.S. citizen, shared some of his experiences from recent trips to Iraq as a member of Muslim and Christian peacemaker teams with a small audience at Bethel Lutheran Church on Sunday.

Rasouli, 54, was born and raised in Iraq and became a math teacher. But he left in 1976 when there was a nationwide move to make everyone a member of the Bath party. He went first to the United Arab Emirates, then on to Germany and finally up in the Twin Cities in 1986.

He owned and operated a successful downtown Minneapolis restaurant, Sinbad's, and in June 2001 became an American citizen. His success and popularity with his customers landed him on the cover of the Minneapolis St. Paul magazine that August.

"Just 30 days later Sept. 11 happened, and everything changed," said Rasouli. "We were all so saddened by what those terrorists did and were waiting to see what was going to happen."

What did happen was an outpouring of support from customers and friends who wanted to assure him that he was welcome in the community.

But regardless of support for him personally, Rasouli said the events of Sept. 11 and the 19 terrorists "didn't just hijack a plane, they hijacked Islam. For many people, that act has defined Islam, and nothing could be further from the truth."

In November of 2004 following the war in Iraq, Rasouli, a Shiite Muslim, sold his business and made the decision to go back to Iraq. He returned to his hometown, Najaf, and started an organization called Muslim Peacemaker Teams. He works closely with their counterpart Christian Peacemaking Teams and Human Rights Watch, all working to help Iraqis regardless of their faith.

Questions occupation

Rasouli began his address at Bethel by quoting from the Bible and the Koran about the importance of peace in both religions. He also talked about fellow team members from the U.S. and elsewhere who were kidnapped late last year and are still being held hostage and the daily risks faced not only by peace team workers but by regular Iraqis every day.

Rasouli told the audience that there will be no peace in Iraq until the U.S. and other occupation forces leave the country.

Rasouli pointed to the more than 200 who died over two days last week in Iraq. He believes that if the U.S. leaves Iraq, "It will take away the excuses" now being used by insurgents and terrorists in the country.

"While occupation continues, everytime there is a bombing or something like the destruction of holy Golden Dome mosque last week, they will drag out the American flag and the Israeli flag and say it is all their fault. Nothing will change until the Iraqi people themselves take responsibility," said Rasouli.

Rasouli said the destruction of Iraq's infrastructure has made everyday life extremely difficult, especially in and around Baghdad. In the city's poorest section, 72 percent of the population suffer from hepatitis A or B or typhus. The "yellow water" is to blame. The unemployment rate is 60-70 percent and power is available only about three hours a day.

Rasouli said the country had lost significant infrastructure following the Iraq-Kuwait war in 1991. Public education suffered the most. As a result, there is a generation of Iraqis who are uneducated. "It is these people who are now in the security forces and the police force. They are not educated. They don't know how to communicate and they are a big part of the problem."

Rasouli said the longer the occupation by U.S. and coalition troops goes on, the more old tribal barriers will grow in the country. "It is hard to hear, but Iraqis do not believe the occupation is there to liberate them or insure their freedom. They do not see Iraq rebuilding. Of every $3 spent by the U.S. to rebuild, $2 goes to security and the $1 remaining is split up between officials, administrators and companies that are doing very little to help regular Iraqis. The government hides in the safe green zone, or when they do come out, disrupt everything sealing off roads and whole areas of the city so they can get around. It creates only bad feelings and makes life just that much harder."

Rasouli said he and most Iraqis are glad to be rid of Saddam Hussein, but now they need to rebuild their country on their own. He acknowledges that if the U.S. occupation ends, Iraq may erupt in civil war. "But it would still be better than extended occupation. We have lived together in the past, we can do it again. It will be difficult but it is the only way we can ever hope to have peace there again."

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

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