Iraqi native, former Minneapolis businessman, sees Iraq's troubles firsthandby Dan Olson, Minnesota Public Radio
Are conditions in Iraq as bad as news accounts would have us believe? The answer, according to Sami Rasouli, is yes. In fact, to hear Rasouli's description conditions are worsening. We first heard from Sami Rasouli several years ago when he owned a popular Nicollet Ave. restaurant in south Minneapolis. We've stayed in touch with him over the years as he returned to his homeland of Iraq.
St. Paul, Minn. — Sami Rasouli, an American citizen, was born in Iraq. He was a school teacher before he came to this country nearly 30 years ago. He drove taxi for awhile to support his family. Eventually he bought Sindbad's, the Minneapolis restaurant he operated for years.
Rasouli returned to Iraq for a visit in 2003 for the funeral of his mother. When he saw how his sisters and their families and other Iraqis were suffering because of the war, he decided to return. He sold his Minneapolis restaurant and moved back to Iraq in 2004.
He formed a group called the Muslim Peacekeepers Team. The team cooperated with the Christian Peacekeepers Team, trying to help Iraqis survive the effects of the war.
Rasouli, who spoke from the Najaf home of one of his sisters, says conditions in Iraq are at a low point.
"The infrastructure is literally destroyed, no production facilities running. Employment is running between 60 to 70 percent and rising," he says.
Rasouli says people go for a week without bathing with hot water. There's food, but sickness from tainted food is common. He says what were once fully equipped hospitals, capable of handling all kinds of health problems, have been reduced to clinics handing out pain pills.
"They don't have the right equipment, it has been looted or damaged or violated. It's so gruesome, the picture."
On top of everything else, he says, the weather is rotten. Parts of Iraq are coping with a colder, wetter-than-normal winter.
Rasouli's work with the Muslim Peacekeepers Team takes him to rural areas including places where Iraqi Bedouin live.
"They are living in tents, no roof, and rain continues like three days in a row. They have kids they are not bathed, they cannot bathe them, they cannot take them to school."
As for the killing, Sami Rasouli says, he and other Iraqis cannot predict from one day to the next who will die.
"We wake up every day here to just listen to the news. Who died today? The global community should wake up and stop this madness."
The violence, often described as civil war, includes many elements, according to news accounts. Besides warring Sunni and Shiite factions and criminal violence, there are assassinations of Baath party members.
A few days ago, Rasouli says he received word of the murder of a friend of his. Rasouli says he'd been with the 63-year old retired army officer the night before his death.
The next day, the man was ambushed by two men and died in a hail of bullets. Rasouli says the man was a Baath Party member and an army officer during Saddam Hussein's regime. He assumes the man was killed as part of the wave of murders of former ruling Baath Party members.
"His name was on a list, and nobody knows from the list. Was (it) either the Iranian intelligence or the Israeli intelligence (who sought to) liquidate all the previous Iraqi intelligence army officers and who were important in the army previously."
Rasouli's view is much of the violence in Iraq is because of the presence of American troops. He thinks they should leave Iraq immediately because they are the targets.
Rasouli says once the Americans have left, it is up to the Iraqis to deal with al Qaeda elements in the country who are targeting Americans.
"I think that will be the responsibility of the Iraqis to get rid of them, because the Iraqis who are resisting the occupation of the U.S. in Iraq, they are allowing them to be there to target Americans only."
Rasouli says he plans to visit Minnesota in February.
- All Things Considered, 01/24/2007, 5:20 p.m.