Iraqis in Syria Prepare to Return Home
By BASSEM MROUE, Associated Press Writer
April 11, 2003
SAYDA ZEINAB, Syria -- One day he was selling makeup on the streets, the next Hussein Dakhel was packing to go home.
"I hope everything will be sold by tomorrow because I plan to go to Baghdad," said the bearded Dakhel, an AWOL Iraqi soldier who feels it's now safe to return.
Dakhel, 30, left the Iraqi city of Qaddisiya for Syria two months ago, joining many Iraqis who fled their country before the U.S.-British-led war began March 20.
"I knew the war was going to break out and fled Iraq. I didn't want to fight with the al-Quds Army," Dakhel said as he coaxed prospective customers into buying lipstick and hairbands near the Shiite Muslim shrine of Sayda Zeinab, just outside Damascus.
But now that Saddam Hussein's power structure is in tatters, relieved Iraqis like Dakhel feel it is time to go home.
"For almost 30 years we have been living with wars," Dakhel said, referring to the eight-year war with Iran, the 1991 Gulf conflict and the current coalition campaign. "Thank God we are free of him. Let us live with some freedom."
Souaad Abdullah, who has been in Syria for about a year with her husband and children, is making similar homecoming plans. "It is safe to go back to Iraq now," she said.
Standing nearby, a handful of Syrians responded angrily to the Iraqis' relief. Like many Arabs across the region, they were dismayed by the swift collapse of an Arab government at the hands of U.S.-led forces they perceive as occupiers instead of liberators.
One Syrian man screamed that Iraqis should be thankful to their government for providing them food and water. Iraqis said they weren't living as human beings, and could go to jail for listening to the BBC.
Syria shares a long border with Iraq and hosts more than 500,000 Iraqis, most of whom arrived in the past month to stay with friends or in rented homes until the war ends.
Iraqis who spoke in Sayda Zeinab on Friday were mainly Shiite Muslims, who comprise the majority of the Iraqi population but had been long repressed by the regime of Saddam, a Sunni Muslim.
A group of Iraqis gathered in a small coffee shop to follow news of looting in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, the latest city to come under control of U.S.-led troops.
"I feel that the future of Iraq will be better because Saddam and the ruling gang were controlling the oil sector," said Ali Majid, a 44-year-old veteran of the 1991 Gulf conflict and the Iran-Iraq war.
"Now, even if we get 15 percent or 20 percent of the this wealth, our future will be better," said Majid, who left Iraq days before this war began.