War, FBI Visits Worry Iraqi-Americans

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Images of explosions in Baghdad and the silence of dead phone lines are sending waves of fear through America's Iraqi communities, as expatriates worry about relatives and friends trapped by the war. Visits by the FBI also are heightening anxiety.

Bassam Al-Hussaini, an engineer who left Iraq in 1982, spoke with his mother in Baghdad two days before the first missile strikes.

"In case I don't see you again, kiss your children for me," she told him. Since then, he's had no word on his mother's fate, or that of 14 other family members in Iraq's capital.

"I felt personally I wasn't going to see her again," said Al-Hussaini, who now lives in Southern California and is member of a Pomona mosque serving a large Iraqi-American community.

The feelings of Iraqi-Americans toward the invasion are far from universal. While some oppose war, others would welcome the end of Saddam Hussein 's regime.

Whatever their political leanings, however, the U.S. attacks seemed to unite people in concern for their loved ones.

In Pomona, Kothar Al-Qazwini said the sight of milk in her refrigerator, or stocked grocery store shelves, fill her with worry for Iraqi civilians.

"All my mind is with the people," she said. "I am just thinking about them — if they are hungry now, if their kids have any milk to drink."

In the Detroit area, home to one of the nation's largest concentrations of people with roots in the Middle East, talk of war dominated Thursday.

"The innocent people, they don't deserve this," Huda Alsenad, whose husband has relatives in Iraq. "You just watch it and you are scared. They are human beings. It attacks your heart."

Haider Al-Jubury, 29, who came to the United States in the 1990s, watched the start of the military campaign in a cafe Wednesday night in Dearborn, Mich.

"It's like waiting for a newborn baby. You want to see it, but you know there's going to be a lot of pain before then," he said.

In Pomona, Al-Hussaini and others held a news conference Thursday at a school, The Assadiq Foundation, to ask that President Bush not keep forces in Iraq too long, remove sanctions quickly and not use nuclear weapons.

Since the attack began, community members have received 100 hate calls, said Sayed Moustafa Al-Qazwini, Kothar's husband and imam of the Islamic Educational Center of Orange County.

Iraqis around the country, including members of Pomona congregation, also reported visits by FBI agents as part of a national search for potential terrorist cells, spies or people who might provide information helpful to a U.S. war effort.

Al-Qazwini said the interrogations often struck fear into those being questioned.

"Unfortunately some members of our community have experienced some of the same threats that we lived with in Iraq," he said. "Iraqi-Americans are not the enemies of the American community. We share the goal of liberating Iraq."