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Iraqis in Switzerland fearful of war

Leading members of Switzerland's Iraqi community have said they would like to see the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, removed from power, but they are worried about the long term effects of a military campaign.

This content was published on February 19, 2003 - 14:01

Anna Nelson asked an Iraqi intellectual in Lausanne how Iraqis feel about the United States-led campaign to oust Saddam.

Mr T, who has been living in Switzerland for nearly 20 years, asked not to be named because of fears for his safety and for his family and friends in Iraq.

swissinfo: What is your opinion of a possible war against Iraq?

T: I am worried, like all Iraqis here in Switzerland, inside Iraq and around the world, about what is coming next. We are not feeling good and we are very worried about what's going to happen. We can't support war... no one would like to support war but I imagine that the United States will do it. There is no other solution for this crisis. Of course, they will try with all diplomatic and peaceful means to find a solution but I doubt that they will find one because we know the president of Iraq.

How do you feel about the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein?

I can't consider him as a leader because a leader should have principles and morals. Of course I would like to see him ousted from power... all Iraqis all over the world want this. That is, except those people who are defending him inside Iraq... members of the Special Forces, the Republican Guard and volunteers who protect him. But I think all Iraqis are dreaming of the day when they will wake up and find there is no more Saddam Hussein.

What do your family and friends in Iraq understand about the situation?

I still have my brothers, sisters and my mother there and I receive letters from them because there is no way to reach them by phone. They say they are going on with their lives and working to survive. It's difficult for some people who have no financial resources but I think the majority of Iraqis feel that it's better to concentrate on daily life because they are helpless to do anything about the political situation. You know, Iraqis are peaceful people and they just want to live like other people around the world.

How do they feel about President Bush? Do they support him?

They cannot think like that because it is forbidden to have such ideas inside their heads. If the thought crosses their minds, someone will discover it and then they will be killed. But inside, secretly, many of them are happy that someone is finally going to free them from this dictatorship. Some of them do not welcome the arrival of the Americans... this is the truth of the relationship between Iraq and the United States. Saddam took power with the aid of the Americans... we shouldn't forget that... and he has remained in power since 1979. The Americans even sold him chemical weapons at the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war. So, some Iraqis are distrustful and bitter towards the US.

Do you believe Saddam has weapons of mass destruction?

Yes, of course... not nuclear, but biological and chemical, which are very easy things to get. It's not so complicated.

Have you ever experienced problems in going back to visit Iraq?

The last time I was in Iraq was in May 2002 and you know, when you enter Iraq... you feel a kind of fear inside you because you don't know what's going to happen. It would be easy for someone to suspect you of something and then it would be your end. It would be difficult to get out, even with a Swiss passport, because I would have to inform the Swiss embassy and I would not have this chance. But I was not politically active when I lived in Iraq and that's why I'm allowed to go in and out without any problems.

What kind of government would you like to see take over in Iraq?

I think the Swiss model of federalism would be the best option for Iraq. It would fit the best, especially in terms of the Kurdish people, because they have a certain degree of autonomy. I would like to see a parliament made up of elected officials and an elected president... this is the dream of all people. You know, the living conditions are so severe and difficult inside the country... the people are really suffering a lot. They have been living with war, poverty and disease for almost 30 years now. They don't deserve that. They are suffering because of injustice from inside and from outside... they have been taken hostage inside this country we call Iraq.

Can the US defeat Saddam Hussein?

Yes, I think so. Saddam also threatened the Americans before and during Desert Storm and he is just bluffing. He's really a very dangerous man, so of course he will use chemical and biological weapons... he will use all of the weapons at his disposal. He does not care about human life and innocent people. But I think in the end the Americans will win because they have a very powerful military. But I hope that the United States will avoid as many innocent civilian [casualties] as they can, because they caused a great deal of destruction the last time around.

If Saddam is ousted, would you consider going back to take part in rebuilding your native country?

I don't know if I could live with my people again because I have been living here for almost 20 years, but of course this is a kind of dream. In the end, I am nostalgic for the paradise that was once Iraq - a place where there was petrol and water, green forests and palm trees, music and poetry - where people were happy to work and to enjoy life. All of this is over because of Saddam Hussein and his desire to build up his military machine. His dream was, and still is, to get a nuclear bomb.

swissinfo - interview: Anna Nelson

Key facts

As many as 500,000 Iraqis could need medical assistance if war breaks out.
The UN estimates that up to three million Iraqis could be hit by food shortages, while a possible 900,000 refugees might try to flee the country.
Cholera and dysentery may break out should the country's sanitation and water systems be damaged.
Most Iraqi citizens rely on government rations for food, and an invasion may bring widespread hunger.

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