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'It's like a war here, too'

Far from home, an Iraqi student watches war unfold

From Jill Dougherty
CNN Moscow Bureau Chief

Sent to school in Russia by the Iraqi government, Mustafa is separated from his family in Baghdad.
Sent to school in Russia by the Iraqi government, Mustafa is separated from his family in Baghdad.

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In our 'War Stories' series, CNN correspondents tell the story of war from the perspective of one person living through, recovering from or fighting the war in Iraq.

MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- As soon as he gets back to his dormitory room in Moscow, Muhammad Salahaldin Mustafa turns on the TV. It's the only lifeline he has to his family in Baghdad, Iraq.

Mustafa is one of 58 Iraqis enrolled at Moscow's Gubkin University of Oil and Gas. He and his fellow Iraqis are older than the average student here. They were sent here by the Iraqi government for specialized courses in the petroleum industry, all taught in Russian.

Over tea with a fellow Iraqi student, he recalls his last conversation with his family, two weeks ago by phone. He had not been able to reach them since the start of the war in March.

"Honestly, it's tough," he says. "I heard the voice of my daughter and wife for about five minutes. My son wasn't able to talk with me. Then the line went down. I don't know if they're alive or dead."

In his crowded room, Mustafa keeps pictures of his 9-year-old daughter, Asel, and 10-year-old son Omar. Their grandmother is an American from Virginia who married an Iraqi doctor and has lived in Baghdad for 45 years.

On the wall is a picture of Mustafa's father, who died in January. Nearby is a portrait of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

'Only for oil'

Mustafa and his fellow Iraqi students say the U.S.-led war is all about the subject they're studying.

"It's for our oil, no question about it, only for our oil," says Mustafa.

As the war moved closer to his hometown of Baghdad last week, Mustafa watched the news with increasing concern. He says he feels as if he is on a tour of duty himself, in Moscow, separated from the people he loves.

"It's like a war here, too," he says. "I came here to get my diploma and that's a victory for Iraq. If I could go back, I would, but all the borders are closed except for Syria. In the end, it's better if I stay here and finish my degree."

"Everything," he adds, "is in the hands of Allah."

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