Joined: 27 Apr 2005
Location: Sandstone, Minnesota
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|Posted: Tue Jun 21, 2005 3:39 am Post subject: Back from Iraq, still working for peace
|Jon Tevlin, Star Tribune
June 21, 2005
When former Minneapolis restaurateur Sami Rasouli arrived in his homeland of Iraq in November, he looked very much the outsider. His Western dress caused suspicion. So did the ever-present digital camera, and his inability to comprehend slang that didn't exist when he left more than 20 years ago.
But after six months, Rasouli acclimated. He gained the trust of neighbors in his hometown of Najaf enough to form an organization called Muslim Peacemaker Teams (MPT), which has begun the arduous and sometimes dangerous job of cleaning up Iraqi cities and towns that have been, and still are, in a state of war.
Rasouli is back in Minnesota for several weeks, raising money for the efforts. He brought with him about 50 pieces of art from a variety of Iraqi artists, which he plans to display and sell around the Twin Cities. Money raised will go to the artists and their families, as well as to peacekeeping efforts.
Rasouli's group has worked with other peace groups, including Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) of Iraq. On May 6, Rasouli and a group of Shi'a Muslims from MPT traveled to the Sunni-dominated city of Fallujah to help clean up rubble from the U.S. assault on the city. MPT sought to counter reports of Sunni/Shi'a sectarian violence, and to demonstrate unity, according to the CPT website.
"One of the most hopeful signs in Iraq today is seeing people reach across the divide between Sunnis and Shi'as, and between countries, to try to find peace," said David Pritchard, CPT co-director. Rasouli and others, he said, have "overcome fears and dangers to say they are going to make peace."
Rasouli, an ardent opponent of the war in Iraq as well as the continued presence of U.S. troops, did not land easily in his homeland.
He got sick from the lack of sanitation. Electric power has been sporadic and water supplies low in some places. Although he has never been threatened or harmed himself, security threats are part of daily life, something driven home even more since he returned to Minnesota.
In early June, Rasouli received notice that his nephew was kidnapped and was being held for ransom. As head of his extended family, Rasouli was making plans to return early to Iraq when he received notice the nephew had been released unharmed.
"My family, like any Iraqi family, is surviving the daily details," said Rasouli. "There is a lack of electricity, a lack of security. Until recently, there was such a lack of gasoline [that] drivers had to sleep in their cars in line for three days."
His cousin works at a hospital that's been looted so much it's now no more than a clinic, Rasouli said. "Rumors were spread that the U.S. put a virus in the clinic and that if you go, you'll get sick," he said.
The mutual mistrust inside Iraq makes progress difficult. That's why, as a peacekeeper, Rasouli said he needs to be careful not to associate too closely with either the U.S. military, the government or insurgents.
"You have to avoid accepting a ride in their Humvee, even if you are tired," he said, for fear that citizens will think he's working with the soldiers.
But Rasouli has been friendly and talked to soldiers, particularly those he's met from Minnesota. And at one stop, he took photos with two young soldiers who were the same age as his sons. "I wanted to show people that the human family is frayed by acts of insane wars."
Asked if there had been any gains since the United States first occupied Iraq, Rasouli said the only real jobs created were as police and national guard officers. He said corruption has been rampant, both by Iraqis and contractors doing business in Iraq.
Working with CPT has inspired Rasouli to keep up the work. "I look at their faces and they are radiant," he said. "They are fearless. They go everywhere help is needed, no matter how dangerous it is."
Still, he said, "we are committed to nonviolent solutions. The Iraqi people were the victims of Saddam's brutal dictatorship, but now they are still suffering and they don't see the light at the end of the tunnel."
Rasouli, who will return to Iraq in July, hopes the small amount of money he raises in Minnesota will help shed just a little of that light.
SAMI RASOULI: Speaking
Tuesday: 7 p.m. (6 p.m., silent auction of Iraqi art) Where: St. Joan of Arc Church, 4537 3rd Av. S., Minneapolis
July 1: 7 p.m. (optional dinner, 6 p.m., $
Where: Sindbad's Deli, 2528 Nicollet Av S., Minneapolis.
Iraq: Through the Eyes of Her Children
When: Reception with Sami Rasouli June 30, 7 to 8 p.m.; exhibit continues 10 a.m.- 4 p.m., Mondays through Fridays, through July 15.
Where: St. Martin's Table
2001 Riverside Av., Minneapolis
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