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Boro Iraqis voice support for US troops in Gulf war

Iraqis in Queens are standing behind the military action to depose Saddam Hussein, even as American and British bombs fall on the cities they once called home.

Fadhel Al-Sahlani, imam of the Al-Khoei Islamic Center on the Van Wyck Expressway in Jamaica, said the 50 to 60 Iraqi families who regularly attend services there shared one basic opinion.

“In general, all of them are with the removal of Saddam from power,” he said. “But the way to remove him, whether by war or something else, here the differences start.”

Sahlani, who emigrated from Iraq in 1987, estimated that about 70 percent of those families support the use of force to topple Saddam, “because we know that he will never listen to any other language but power.”

He said it was possible that support for the war could wane if there were many American casualties or Iraqi civilian deaths, but he predicted that overall the backing would remain strong.

One reason for that support is that American Iraqis are in general people who have had reason to flee Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Hadar Mohammed, the 32-year-old transportation manager at the Al-Khoei school, has left a trail of tears between New York and Baghdad. Of his three older brothers, one was wounded in the Iran-Iraq war and is now handicapped and a second was jailed by the regime for five years, he said.

His oldest brother, he said, left the Iran-Iraq front after being drafted. The family convinced him to go back after one day, but the authorities showed him no mercy.

“They sent him back to us as a dead body,” Mohammed said.

Mohammed himself left Iraq for Syria when he drafted during the first Gulf War. After six years in a Syrian refugee camp, he was granted a visa by the United States. He still speaks to his family in Iraq regularly by telephone.

Because the authorities often eavesdrop on phone calls, “you can’t say more than ‘Hi, how are you?’” he said.

Stories like Mohammed’s are one reason Sahlani is not concerned about backlash attacks against Iraqi American.

Americans “know that the majority of Iraqis here are victims of Saddam’s regime,” Sahlani said.

He said the mosque maintained excellent relations with the Police Department, but added that unlike the aftermath of Sept. 11, no special security precautions were being taken as far as he knew.

Reach reporter Alex Ginsberg by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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