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Iraq: British Iraqis Return Home Despite Doubts About Stability

  • Jan Jun

Many Iraqis were granted asylum and have lived in Britain since fleeing Saddam Hussein's three-decade rule. Now, a number of them are preparing to return home, despite media reports that the situation in their home country appears to be getting worse.

London, 29 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Every posttotalitarian country has its famous exile-returnees -- people who return to their home countries after years and even decades abroad. Russia has writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Latvia has President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, and the Czech Republic has journalist, author, and former Culture Minister Pavel Tigrid.

Iraq has seen a number of well-known returnees in recent months, among them Ahmed Chalabi, now a member of the new Iraqi Governing Council. But there are also thousands of lesser-known but no less accomplished returnees who have spent their years in exile building up careers as medical doctors, scientists, journalists, and entrepreneurs.

Britain has been home to some 150,000 Iraqi exiles. A majority of them are now returning home, or saying they hope to do so soon.

Doctor Faruq al-Rda'a is a successful doctor and an active member of the Iraqi Democratic Union in Britain. But, as he tells RFE/RL, he already has his luggage packed.

"I know there are a lot of people planning to go, and a friend of mine, he is planning to go back as well, some time in October," he said. "The only thing is [when is] the best time for them to go, how to go, and all those things. And they have to wind up their businesses before they can go."

Dr. Al-Rda'a says his relatives still living in Baghdad have told him they "go about their business without serious disruption," despite the continued presence of coalition troops and the continued failure to restore many of the country's basic services.

"What you hear about [in the media] is an exaggeration of what is [actually] happening," he said. "There are millions of Iraqis who live in Baghdad. There is my family, my relatives -- my brother, my sister, my nephews, all of them -- and they are professional people, and they come and go to their place of work without any problems. So I think there is some danger, because of the situation or some of the killing happening, but it is not as bad as the BBC or other Arab satellite [television stations] are showing."

Muhammad Daher is another soon-to-be returnee. He is a petroleum consultant and has served as the head of the Association of Iraqi Democrats in Britain. He tells RFE/RL that although he is 71 and may have difficulty finding a "suitable" place to live in Baghdad, he is ready and "willing to serve" his country.

"In two or three months' time, I would definitely go, hoping to participate, with my other democrat fellows, in promoting democracy for Iraq. I am not worried about the condition at all, because I am very optimistic. From day one, when the coalition went into Iraq and got rid of this dictator and the oppressive regime, I have been optimistic all the time. In fact, people [are] surprised [that] I am that optimistic. This removal of Saddam creates opportunities for us Iraqis to participate at various levels of activities and to accomplish what we are after."

Daher adds that he will remain grateful to Britain for what he described as its friendly attitude toward Iraqi refugees from the Hussein era. He says a part of him will always feel British.

"Whatever influence I have, I will try to persuade the authorities in Iraq to allow dual nationality, so besides acquiring the Iraqi nationality, I will keep also a British nationality," he said. "So I would establish a house in Baghdad and a house in Britain and I would commute between these two houses. And two countries will be my countries."

Analyst Acram al-Hakim tells RFE/RL that the older generation of Britain's Iraqi exiles, like Daher, may find it difficult to return.

"According to the information I have, most of the Iraqis who have come to Britain during the past decade will go back to Iraq. In my experience -- because I [was in] Iraq one month ago -- for me it is safe to go back now. But for my family it may be safer to go later. The reason for leaving the family behind now is not because Iraq is not safe enough for them, but because of some other reasons, like education, [and] because it is still more comfortable here [in the U.K.].

British Iraqis preparing for the trip back to their homeland says they hope the entire international community will contribute to Iraq's recovery from Hussein's rule. "Not just for Iraq's sake," says Daher, "but in order to bring permanent peace and democracy to the Middle East, which should be in the whole world's interest."