Dr. Maha Alattar of Durham is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Neurology at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Medicine. When she was 13, more than two dozen of her family members were rounded up and deported to Iran. Five of her cousins were killed. Alattar and her family left Iraq in 1982 and came to the United States two years later. She is active in the group Women for a Free Iraq and has testified before Congress about events in her homeland.
On whether the war has been worth it: “This is a long-term battle. We did not expect it to turn around within a few weeks or a few months. Iraqis who have lived under the fascist regime understand its ferocity and also those elements that support the regime. At this point, they feel that they continue to battle that same fascist ideology, which is an ideology of hate. They see it as a battle between old modes of rule and those who want democracy and also to have equal opportunities for all ethnic groups to be participants in the governing body of Iraq.
“A lot of Iraqis I talk to feel that this is an ongoing battle. Democracy has not been easy for them, and if they want it, they will have to fight for it. In the end, it will be worth it. The alternative, as we have seen over the past 34 years, has been most horrendous.”
On loved ones still in Iraq: “I have a lot of friends and relatives there, cousins. I speak to them about two to three times a week, sometimes by phone, sometimes by e-mail. Those in Baghdad feel their lives are in danger. One of my relatives survived a bomb attack a few weeks ago in a vegetable marketplace. He was injured severely on his back. I have a lot of Iraqi friends. One had a sister who died; another had a brother who was murdered for ransom money. Two had children kidnapped. It’s a horrible situation, but all of that is in Baghdad.”
What Americans don’t see in the media: “There are parts of Iraq that are doing well. A lot of people are doing a lot of good work and are determined to let this succeed. But they understand that they have to go through these terrible times. They don’t get covered on the news, and I think that’s a very unfortunate thing. We’re empowering the murderers. We’re not empowering those who are struggling against terrorism and fascism.”
On Americans pushing to withdraw from Iraq: “The American people do not seem to have a long-term plan of what the Middle East should look like. Right now, the extremists are violent, and you cannot just leave them there alone. If have an alternative plan, then I’m eager to see that. Just withdrawing the troops is not a solution that’s viable for the whole region and the United States in the long run. It’s a feel-good solution, that’s all it is.”
What Americans need to understand from the Iraqis’ viewpoint: “Their future is at stake. ... The American people don’t have that sense of urgency. They can afford to say, ‘Let’s withdraw,’ and I understand that, but the Iraqis feel they’ve got to fight. No matter what it takes, you’ve got to stand up, and it will take sacrifice. They have suffered unimaginable terror. They don’t want that anymore.
“I asked one of my relatives: What’s the difference now from then? She said, ‘There’s no difference -- except we have hope now. Before we had no hope.’
“And hope is everything.”