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The Baltimore Sun

A Few Are Willing to Risk the Return to Baghdad

JARAMANA, Syria -- Hasem Abed is thinking about going back to Iraq.

The small-time auto trader, 32, left Diyala earlier this year after members of a Shia militia destroyed his house.

He says this town outside Damascus has been more secure, but he has run out of money and has been unable to find work. He is thinking of trying his luck in Baghdad.

Hassam Abdul Rahman might join him. Life in Iraq, the 42-year-old mechanical engineer says, "is very bad." But he, too, has exhausted his savings in Syria.

Unsettled

It's not that Muhammad Shumri imagined building a new life in Baltimore would be easy. But he didn't expect it to be so hard.

The 48-year-old physician was a high-ranking official in the Iraqi Ministry of Health when a photograph that placed him at a meeting with U.S. officials was stolen from his computer. Soon he was receiving anonymous threats warning him to stop working with the Americans.

He moved his wife and five children out of Iraq, traveled alone to the United States and requested asylum. He planned to get a job, find a place to live and send for his family.

'You Cannot Turn Your Back'

WASHINGTON -- After a stranger snapped her photograph as she entered the Green Zone, Tina Raad's family begged her to get out of Iraq.

At first, she resisted. The Iraqi woman had sought work with the U.S. Agency for International Development in Baghdad because she wanted to join in the reconstruction of her country.

But in the eyes of Iraqi insurgents, such collaboration made her a traitor. Changing her dress, varying the route she took to work and altering her hours had not stopped their threats. When her mother and three siblings fled Iraq, she relented.

Roadblocks to Return

DAMASCUS, Syria -- Adnan al-Sharafy sees a few obstacles holding up the return of Iraqi refugees to their home country: the U.S. military, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the news media.

Sharify, an official at the Iraqi Embassy here in Syria, helped to organize government-sponsored bus trips at the end of last year that he says carried 420 Iraqi families back to Baghdad. (The United Nations estimates the Iraqi population here at 1.2 million.)

More free rides home are planned, Sharify says. But finding takers is likely to remain a challenge.

US Slow to Meet Needs, Refugees Say

DOUMA, Syria - Mustafa Hamad Rassoul doesn't see how his family can survive.

Back in Baghdad, the 55-year-old Iraqi Kurd says, the money he made running a clothing shop was more than enough to house and feed his two wives and 10 children. But here in Syria, where he came last year after being threatened by the Mahdi Army, the food and cash assistance his family receives doesn't last the month.

Rassoul blames the United States.

Nostalgia for Saddam Hussein's Rule

AMMAN, Jordan - Najim Abid Hajwal has been having a difficult time renewing his passport.

He submitted his paperwork at the Iraqi Embassy here but was told days later that he was a wanted man back home in Iraq. It turned out that the Interior Ministry was after someone with a similar name. He submitted a new set of papers to prove his identity but was issued a passport with a wrong name.

It's enough to make an Iraqi nostalgic for the good old days.

"Under Saddam, a ministry was a ministry," Hajwal says. "It functioned. It served the people.

Iraqis Keep Low Profile in Neighboring States

DAMASCUS, Syria -- These refugees aren't in camps. And that's making it more difficult for aid workers to address their growing needs.

The great majority of Iraqis who have come to Syria have settled in and around the capital. Most have disappeared into the cosmopolitan population of this Middle Eastern hub; many are intentionally keeping their profiles low, for fear of being caught, detained, and sent back to Iraq.

The pattern is the same in Jordan, Lebanon and other Iraqi neighbors.

Syria Sees No Sectarian Strife Among Iraqis

SAIDA ZAINAB, Syria - As a Sunni Muslim married to a Shia, Hamid Al Dulayme was threatened by both sides in Baghdad. When militia members broke into his house in 2005, he fled Iraq.

In Syria, he says, he has left sectarian conflict behind.

"The best thing here is there is no problem between different groups," Dulayme says.

When Iraqis began pouring into Syria two and a half years ago, authorities here feared that they would bring their country's sectarian divide with them.