CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Iraqis Returning Home to Fight
Aired March 31, 2003 - 03:21 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: There are a number of Iraqis living not in their home country, but all around the world. And for a number of reasons they desire to go back.
Sheila MacVicar is going to join us now from Amman, Jordan, with a story about Iraqi men who want to go home to help fight for their country.
Sheila -- hello.
SHEILA MACVICAR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Daryn.
In the days since the war began, there has been a steady stream of people trekking across the border, not out of Iraq, but back to Iraq, back down the road to Baghdad.
MACVICAR (voice-over): At the bus station on the outskirts of Amman, Zu Hahr (ph) and his friends are getting ready to head to Baghdad. Eight dollars buys a bus ride to the border, back to the country they left years ago. They are going, they say, to fight.
"The war started and we have no choice," says Zu Hahr (ph). "No one is forcing us, but we have to go."
Every day since the war began hundreds of mostly young Iraqi men have shown up here, ready to brave that perilous drive. Nearly 6,000 have crossed so far. It is a question, they say, of their homeland.
Down at the Iraqi embassy, the staff is busy issuing thousands of new identity documents to Iraqis who thought they would not return again during the time of Saddam Hussein. Embassy staff handed out posters, but many of those who came here say they're returning to fight for Iraq, not Saddam Hussein.
"It is my home," he says. "I'm going home to defend my country."
The U.S. calls this Operation Iraqi Freedom, a war of liberation, they say, to make Iraq's people free. Commanders acknowledge the resistance has been unexpectedly fierce.
One reason perhaps is history, a history not of liberation, but occupation. The Turks and their Ottoman Empire, the British who believed they were bringing order and law and who paid a terrible price in Iraq when the people rose up. And there are these images, daily reminders of ongoing occupation by Israel of Palestinian territory.
BASSEM AWADALLAH, JORDANIAN MINISTER: No country, no people in this world like to see military occupation on their land.
MACVICAR: Bassem Awadallah is a Jordanian minister trying to explain why the Arab view, the Iraqi view, doesn't necessarily see liberation but something else.
AWADALLAH: And the war has been shifted in a way that it is no longer a war being fought against the Iraqi regime. It is a war that is being fought against the Iraqi homeland.
MACVICAR: And they are fighting, they say, to defend their homes. It is not just Iraq's regime at war, but Iraq's people.
Hallid (ph), an Iraqi physiotherapist, is making plans to leave his family in Amman and return to Baghdad.
"America," he says, "does not have right on its side. America does not have the right to occupy my country. And if America stays," says Hallid (ph) and many others, "no matter how little the time, what they are thinking about is occupation and resistance."
Daryn, what we've heard from coalition commanders, they've talked about the resistance coming from Iraq's military, from Saddam's Fedayeen. We heard Donald Rumsfeld say yesterday that some of those fighting were what he called "deadly thugs." We've been told that Iraq's people are being forced to fight.
It seems that none of these take into account what may be a growing sense of solidarity among Iraqi's people not in support of Saddam Hussein, but in defense of their country -- Daryn.
KAGAN: Sheila, so much of this is a propaganda war. We've heard Saddam Hussein calling on all Arabs to rise up. We hear from other Iraqi officials when they speak, calling this war racist. It sounds like, at least from the young men that you've talked with, that that message is getting through to them.
MACVICAR: It's not necessarily just the words of Saddam Hussein. To large measure, Daryn, what you are seeing in North America, what North American viewers are seeing and what people here in the Middle East are seeing are almost two very different wars.
Coverage here in the Middle East, whether it's in newspapers or on television, is very much focusing on some of the most graphic images of conflict: civilian casualties, children killed/wounded, refugees. These are very strong, very emotive images, and they resonate in people's hearts. They resonate in their minds.
And for many people here, they look at these images and they see not Saddam Hussein and his regime, but they see their homes, their families and their country, and nationalism, patriotism. It seems that all of these are coming into play now not, again, in defense of Saddam Hussein, but in defense of their country.
KAGAN: Sheila MacVicar in Amman, Jordan -- Sheila, thank you very much.
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