Page last updated at 06:01 GMT, Monday, 19 May 2008 07:01 UK

Watching the Iraq war from afar

By Selma Chalabi
BBC News, Eye On Wales

Mehdi El Radhi
Mehdi El Radhi moved to Machynlleth from Iraq in the 1990s

Five years since conflict broke out in Iraq, thousands of people have fled their homeland while others have watched on from other countries.

Basic essentials like fresh water and electricity are scare resources for many living in Iraq.

Yet brutal violence, bombings and kidnappings are apparently commonplace.

BBC Wales news spoke to three people of Iraqi heritage and now living in Wales about what it was like seeing their country being torn apart by war.

Mehdi El Radhi says his family in Iraq could be classed as 'lucky'.

While others in his homeland have had to cope with executions, his relatives in Baghdad have been spared that anguish.

Instead, however, they have had to confront the horror of kidnapping - something which has become increasingly common in Iraq since the war started five years ago.

"I don't know if we have been lucky or not but we have not had executions in our family," said Mr El Radhi.

"One of my 13-year-old cousins was kidnapped for about 10 days. He was held and originally the kidnappers were asking for $100,000 to return him alive. Eventually my uncle had to pay $30,000 which is a huge amount of money for an Iraqi to release him.

"But what price do you put on your son's head, you know, your cousin's head? There just isn't a price."

Kamal Selmassi and his wife Jenny
There's no electricity, there's no water. The country of two great rivers Euphrates and Tigres has no clean water
Kamal Selmassi, pictured with wife Jenny

Mr El Radhi, a carpenter, has had to watch from afar as Iraq has descended in lawlessness and chaos.

Having moved to Machynlleth, Powys, in the 1990s, he has lived with the knowledge that his family back home in Iraq have a far different life to the safe and comfortable one he now has in Wales.

Five years after the US and UK invaded Iraq, he and other Iraqis living in Wales can only hope life improves.

For at the moment, life in Iraq is hard and unfair, according to Kamal Selmassi, who moved to Wales in 1969.

Having settled in Bridgend with his Welsh wife Jenny and their four children, he has recently gained telephone contact with his nephews in Damascus, Syria, after they fled Baghdad.

"There's no electricity, there's no water. The country of two great rivers Euphrates and Tigres has no clean water," said Mr Selmassi, who works in a supported housing organisation in Bridgend.

"A country which is sitting on the second largest oil reserve in the world - doesn't matter, make it the third or fourth largest - people queue up 16, 17, 18 hours to get petrol.

Miqdad Al Nuaimi
Miqdad Al Nuaimi is a former Mayor of Newport and university lecturer

"The Iraqis you watch on television every day saying 'is that democracy? We don't want it'."

Miqdad Al Nuaimi, settled in Newport after coming to the city in 1962 on a scholarship from the then Iraqi government to study electronic engineering, is more cautiously optimistic for the future.

"I think it's important that the Iraqi government should build its reputation and it's important that Iraq stays as one because I don't honestly think it's got a future if it breaks up," said Mr Al Nuaimi, a former Mayor of Newport and a lecturer at Glamorgan University, who has extended family in the Northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

"I think there's enough national pride among all these people to see that point.

"I think Iraq is a very, very special place really. It's interesting its people are very talented people and I do feel given different circumstances that they could be a very, very important influence in the world really."

Hear their full stories on Eye on Wales, BBC Radio Wales at 1830 BST on Monday, 19 May




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