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Discussion with Iraqi-American

Aired October 30, 2002 - 12:49   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The possibility of going to war with Iraq has some Americans nervous and concerned, but for Iraqi- Americans, the feelings are even more intense and conflicted. Joining us now with his perspective is Anas Shalal. He's an American of Iraqi ancestry.
Anas, thanks so much for joining us. You were only 11 years old when your family came here. As you see what's going on right now, obviously you're very concerned. What goes through your mind?

ANAS SHALAL, IRAQI-AMERICAN: I think all the suffering of the Iraqi people right now. The sanctions that have been imposed on them for 12 years have been really devastating to their emotional, as well as their physical well being.

BLITZER: But on the one hand, the Iraqi people are under the thumb of Saddam Hussein and you're concerned about that. On the other hand, you're obviously concerned if the U.S. goes to war, presumably a lot of innocent Iraqis are going to die in the process.

SHALAL: Absolutely. I think we've seen lots of innocent Iraqis have already died because of Saddam Hussein's actions and the United States's actions to be able to be in the way of those. And I think the Iraqi people have really -- have suffered so much in the past few years, that people don't understand that, that no matter what happens right now, whether we decide not to go to war, the suffering will continue of the Iraqi people through the sanctions that have killed, you know, hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians.

BLITZER: But this is also a brutal regime that has their thumb down on everything inside Iraq.

SHALAL: Yes. I think you won't find many Iraqis that would be very supportive of Saddam Hussein right now. But I think you'll find a lot of Iraqis that would be opposed to the way we're trying to depose him.

BLITZER: So what is your solution to ending this current crisis? And it is a crisis.

SHALAL: I think the logical solution is to have some sort of a homegrown uprising that would topple Saddam Hussein. I think in order to have that happen, though, you need to have some kind of freedoms that the Iraqi people haven't had in many years, such as the freedom of movement, the freedom of travel, freedom of information. I think those are the biggest enemies of dictatorship, is having those opportunities. BLITZER: Well, what possibly could induce Saddam Hussein to allow that kind of freedom to develop in Baghdad, in the south or in the north or areas under his control?

SHALAL: Well, I don't think we're really depending on Saddam Hussein to do that. I think the sanctions have really created a situation for Saddam Hussein that he's been able to sort of capitalize on, and be able to become more entrenched in his power there. It's only strengthened him over the many years.

BLITZER: But long before there were sanctions, he was doing exactly the same thing.

SHALAL: Well, unfortunately there was a war there at some point between Iran and Iraq that also created that kind of control over the people of Iraq. Although that war, we helped to be able to sustain and maintain. We have pictures of Mr. Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein, saying he's OK, he's a good guy, and being able to give him information.

BLITZER: That's when the U.S. was tilting toward Iraq against Iran because of the hostage crisis and all the problems with the Ayatollah, along -- and throughout the 1980s.

When you take a look at the support the U.S. government is giving Iraqi opposition forces, whether in the north the Kurds, for example, or the Iraqi National Congress, which is based in London, are these the opposition forces that are eventually going to take over Iraq and bring some change of regime there?

SHALAL: I think the unfortunate part about these opposition forces, although they might not be very credible, or some people may think they are, is the fact they've been tainted with CIA money and outside money basically to put them in power.

And I think whatever happens, if they do come and be placed in power, they're going to be perceived as being agents of the West, agents of the United States, and they won't get a lot of support from within the country. And therefore, it's going to require us to stay there for a very long time to keep them in power.

BLITZER: How many Americans are there of Iraqi ancestry, as far as you can tell?

SHALAL: I think about 400,000 to 500,000 here in the United States.

BLITZER: And they live all over the country, or they're concentrated in one area?

SHALAL: No, they live all over the country. There's a large population in Detroit. A lot of Chaldeans who came here many, many years ago have established their homes there. And there's quite a few here in the Washington D.C. area as well.

BLITZER: Anas Shalal, thanks for your perspective. SHALAL: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: And good luck to you. And all Iraqi-Americans. They're watching this, obviously, very, very closely. But I'm sure there are different shades of opinion within your community.

SHALAL: Well, I think for most of the Iraqis that live in this country, they're opposed to the war. I think they want to see a regime change, but they don't think the way we're going about it is the correct way.

BLITZER: So it's fair to say I was right when I say they're conflicted?


BLITZER: Thanks very much, Anas.

SHALAL: Thank you.


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