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Voices from Iraq

BBC News Online speaks to six Iraqis about their lives, fears and hopes.

Abu Abbas is an Iraqi Shia Muslim living in the UK. He visits Iraq regularly, using his profession as cover for carrying out clandestine charitable work for Shia widows. The ruling elite views the Shia majority as potentially rebellious and has historically discriminated against them.

I went recently for a 10-day visit to Iraq. A large number of women have lost their husbands, brothers or fathers to the regime - they have either been executed, are in prison, or have just disappeared.

Iraq's Shias:
  • The Shias are one of the two main branches of Islam. The other, majority, branch are the Sunnis
  • Shias and Sunnis split due to a dispute over who should lead the Muslims after the death of the Prophet Mohammed 7th Century AD
  • About 65% of Iraqis are Shia
  • Iraq has been ruled by a Sunni elite since independence
  • Simply because of what has happened to their husbands they are considered anti-regime. These families do not receive rations coupons and are often living very miserable lives.

    I help distribute money raised in England - $8 will buy a family food for a month. To distribute funds for charitable purposes, bypassing the Iraqi Government, is considered to be subversive. It means running the risk of being imprisoned.

    On my last visit, I also went to see the supreme Shia leader in Najaf - Sayed Seetani. I handed over money from Iraqis here to support the religious university in the city, which is under severe restrictions.

    I also went to Baghdad to try to sort out how my relatives are going to handle the expected war. Should they leave Baghdad? What if there is a power cut for two months?

    My aunt is 77-years-old and very frail. In the fourth or fifth week of the 1991 air raids she couldn't stand it any more and moved out to a rural area. But she had to depend on being given bread by people there.

    As much as we are afraid of Saddam, we are also afraid that the Americans might indiscriminately target the civilian infrastructure as they did in 1991
    It seems that this time the best thing is to stay put. This is to save their homes from being looted. And, as long as they could avoid an unexpected chemical attack by Saddam, once the coalition forces liberate the area they would probably be safe.

    The people are afraid that Saddam Hussein will try to disperse his loyal forces among schools, hospitals and mosques and in the bazaars, markets and residential areas.

    As much as we are afraid of Saddam, we are afraid that the Americans might also indiscriminately target the civilian infrastructure as they did in 1991.

    Across the board, Iraqis are bitter about the destruction of infrastructure in 1991 - the destruction of the telephone exchanges, power stations, and more than 96 bridges.

    I would fight

    I remember this very clearly. We had continuous air bombardment for six weeks. We had to throw away all our food in the fridges and the freezer because there was no electricity. There was a shortage of water and of fuel. But we felt at the time, that this was a price worth paying, if we were to end up free.

    This time I visited Iraq there was no searching of luggage. I was treated exceptionally well. Previously, I would be searched thoroughly. All personal computers, floppy discs and CDs would have to be handed over and inspected.

    People have lost a lot already. They would pay the ultimate price, if they knew they were going to get something decent for their children
    Also, in public I saw taxi drivers listening to Iranian radio. A few years ago anyone caught doing this would be arrested, indicted and would probably be tortured. I think this indicates that the government is trying to give itself a face-lift. But the Iraqi people are not stupid.

    People have lost a lot already. They would pay the ultimate price, if they knew they were going to get something decent for their children. They've said this to me.

    As an exile, I would feel that should the situation require my presence there to fight or to lend support in my professional capacity, I would not hesitate to do that. I think many Iraqis in the diaspora, would aspire to go to fight, as long as there is a chance that their sacrifices would be fruitful.

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