Iraqi-Americans fear war inevitable despite access to inspectors

By Sandra Marquez The Associated Press
Thursday November 14, 2002

LOS ANGELES — Many Iraqi-Americans fear that war is inevitable despite Saddam Hussein’s decision to allow U.N. weapons inspectors into the country. 

A sampling of lawyers, doctors and activists in Southern California, with an estimated 85,000 Iraqi-Americans, viewed the Iraqi dictator’s gesture, announced Wednesday in a letter delivered to the United Nations, as a stalling tactic by a man who will do anything to remain in power. 

There is little chance Saddam will be able to meet all the requirements spelled out in the resolution, the dissidents said, which would likely force a military showdown with the United States. 

The real test, in the words of Dr. Ridha Hajjar, the imam, or religious leader at Ahlul Beyt Mosque in Pomona which serves a predominantly Iraqi-Muslim congregation, lies in the long-term changes to come. 

“What happens after the inspections?” asked Hajjar, 62. 

U.S. policy makers and foreign diplomats are quick to cite the fine points of U.N. resolution 1441, which grants weapons inspectors unfettered access to any site in Iraq suspected of storing biological and nuclear weapons. 

But Iraqi-Americans remember an order 11 years ago that, had it been enforced, might have made the new resolution unnecessary. 

“There is no direct mention to resolution 688,” the 1991 U.N. decree that called for democratic reform in Iraq, said Labib Sultan, a professor of computer science at San Diego State University. 

Sultan, who moved to California three years ago and still has brothers and sisters in Iraq, said a change of government is the only way to ensure long-term stability in the region. 

“The reality is this: tomorrow they remove the weapons of mass destruction. What warrants that Saddam will not rebuild them again?” Sultan asked. “The U.N. inspectors will not be able to stay in Iraq all of their lives.” 

He is worried that Iraqi citizens will again have to bear the brunt of war. 

“The way we look at it, we are also very interested in the removal of the weapons of mass destruction because Saddam used them against our civilians,” Sultan said. “If the war has to come, it should be a war against Saddam, not a war against Iraq, because our people have suffered enough.” 

Ban Al-Wardi, 28, an immigration lawyer in Los Angeles, said she believes the United States intends to go to war with Iraq, despite the guise of diplomatic efforts. 

“The entire resolution is basically a pretext for war,” Al-Wardi said. “And I don’t see any slowdown in the military buildup on the border of Iraq.” 

She said she spoke by telephone with relatives in Baghdad recently and she fears for their well-being. 

“Everyone is just preparing for war,” she said. “I have a couple of cousins who are in college and they are not even registering for college next semester because they are afraid it will be blown up. They are just giving up.”