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Iraqis reflect on changes to country

Molly Madden | Monday, February 2, 2009

Three Iraqi students talked about their experiences living in a country that has played a large role in recent American foreign policy in a presentation Friday entitled “I’m From Iraq.”

The talk was the conclusion of Holy Cross College’s “Faith and Culture Dialogues,” a three-day event that aimed to present new perspectives on Iraq.

The presentation featured Karam Salem and Omar Rasheed, students at Holy Cross, and Randa Al-Assadi, a student at Saint Mary’s. During the introduction, the audience was told that the goal of the talk was to help Americans have a more personal relationship with Iraq and view the country as more than just a political issue.

“Iraq is an old civilization with a wonderful culture and a long history,” Karam Salem said in his opening speech.

Salem is originally from Baghdad, but relocated to Syria in 2006 because his Catholic family feared violence. In Nov. 2007, he was chosen for the Iraqi Student Project, a venture that allows displaced Iraqi students to continue their college education either in Iraq or abroad.

“I was raised in a neighborhood that had Muslims and Christians,” Salem said. “We lived in peace; there was no difference between people and we all grew up amidst different religions.”

Salem said his life before the war was simple and comfortable. He talked about how Americans have a misconceived notion about life in Iraq before the invasion.

“All that you know about Iraq is from the media but the media is not always correct,” Salem said. “The only problem before 2003 was that we lived as a closed country and did not know about anything outside of Iraq.”

Rasheed and Al-Assadi both agreed with Salem that life in Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s rule was a time of tranquility.

“Before the war, there was no religious conflict,” Rasheed said. “I’m a Muslim Sunni and until the war my best friend was a Christian.”

Rasheed and his family stayed in Baghdad during the invasion, but prepared to leave the city at any moment.

“I remember those three weeks that were just full of bombing and soldiers in the streets,” he said. “On April 9, 2003, we turned on the TV and did not believe the reports that American soldiers were really in Baghdad.”

After April 9, everything changed. There was no gas, no electricity, and no safety for any of the city’s inhabitants Rasheed said.

“The situation just kept getting worse each time the government changed,” he said. “In 2006, the racism war began and the fear intensified. I got a fake ID that had a different religion and name because I felt threatened because of my Sunni religion.”

Rasheed recalls that at the end of 2006, many people left Iraq for Syria or Jordan.

“All anyone wanted was a sense of safety,” he said.

Randa Al-Assadi, who is also from Baghdad, remembered the horrible conditions that caused many to suffer.

“Everything became extremely dangerous,” she said. “There were killings and kidnappings and I remember everyone just hoping that in a few months everything would be OK, but that didn’t happen.

“When I remember that feeling I feel so bad, but I accept it because this is our life,” she said.

Al-Assadi said that she applied for the Iraqi Student Project because she had no other means of continuing her education. Despite her distance from her native country, Al-Assadi constantly thinks about her fellow Iraqis that remain there.

“I’m always wondering about my Iraqi brothers and sisters,” she said. “We’re struggling from the war; the people are struggling.”

In spite of the conflict that is still waging in Iraq, all three students remain hopeful for the future of their country that they love so much.

“I think my country can heal,” Al-Assadi said. “The situation is unstable right now so you can’t see the good, but the peace will come and everything will be good like it was before the war. We were able to live together as brothers and sisters for millions of year and we will live that way again someday.”