Iraq’s Ambassador to US meets with community members
BY WEAM NAMOU
Iraq’s Ambassador to the United States, Dr. Fareed Yasseen, visited the Chaldean Foundation on Saturday, April 29 for a brief meet-and-greet with members of the community. Educated in Iraq, Switzerland, and the United States, Yasseen served as the Iraqi Ambassador to France from May 2010 to when he stepped down in October 2016, and was awarded the Republican Medal of Honor by Mr. Christian Masset, Secretary General of France’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on behalf of the French Presidency.
Yasseen had a chance to tour the community in Michigan and, as the special guest, gave a speech at the 14th Annual Awards Dinner of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce.
“I was floored by what I saw,” said Dr. Yasseen. “The ways the people stand tall and the good they do. It is because their actions are embedded by strong values, which we all share, which go back to Prophet Abraham, the first political refugee of mankind.”
He reminded people that now, they can have multiple citizenships, that of Iraqi and of the U.S., and encouraged them to utilize that privilege. Almanhal Al Safi, Iraq’s Consulate General, also encouraged people to make their voices heard by getting more involved in the elections.
“We don’t feel that the Iraqi government likes our vote,” said Nabil Roumayah, President of the Iraqi Democratic Union of America. “The government requires two documents from us when most have only one document. Last time, thousands of people were turned away. Some were even in tears because of it.”
“The community bears a responsibility to this problem as well,” said Al Safi. “Since way back, we’ve urged them to register themselves and their kids. We offered to teach them how to do it, but they don’t approach us. There’s no excuse for not registering by coming to the consulate. It’s not only the parents’ right. It’s the kids’ right. At some point, these rights will be valuable.”
Al Safi emphasized that, while people do have an impact here, it needs to be heard in Iraq. He advised community leaders to come up with one frontier and for them to take the opportunity to go to Iraq. He feels that watching television and following social media is not enough, and won’t take them far.
“I have to be brutally honest and express doubt,” said Dhafir (Dave) Nona, director of development at Triangle Development. “Are these your sentiments as good people or do they represent the politics of the Iraqi government? We’ve received many politicians from Iraq – all of them come and talk the same talk but the reality is that the minorities in Iraq have been declining. We really can’t get involved there nor do we have a role there. A lot of people have given up on Iraq.”
“Then that would mean ISIS won and we don’t want them to win,” said the Ambassador. “ISIS expelled Christians from Mosul which never happened before, not even during the Crusade. It’s never heard of! ISIS is not the problem. The problem is what comes after ISIS.”
The ambassador said the best way to defeat ISIS is for Iraqis overseas to visit their ancestral villages and rebuild them. He added, “The bottom line is we really need you and if you will build a project there, you will be very happy.”
“There seems to be disconnect between the words and the actions of the government,” said Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean Community Foundation. “Words are great but actions are more important.”
Manna noted the contradictions and inconsistencies of the Iraqi government toward minorities: barring alcohol, the new identification card where it’s mandatory to state the citizens’ religion, and registering a minor as Muslim following a conversion of any of the parents to Islam.
“We want to go to Washington and talk about economics and rebuilding,” Manna said. “Imagine having a force like us working with you? But first, the Prime Minister should issue a statement that acknowledges Christians have equal rights and those rights are protected in the constitution. He should also ask Iraq’s indigenous people to return to their ancestral homeland, and establish a fund to aid minorities and internally displaced people.”
“Iraq needs to get rid of sectarianism and be a democratic country so we can work together,” said Roumayah. “The community is pulling away slowly.”
The ambassador understood, sympathized and agreed with the members’ uncertainties, but he said that for now, there are more pressing and concrete issues. Iraq is affected by climate change and this will create a lot of immigrants as more Iraqis continue to leave the country. Soon being Iraqi will become tied to an ancestral land, to a virtual network. While conflict between Shia and Sunnis isn’t a problem, the Wahhabization of Sunnis is. Today’s youth yearn for good leadership and educational institutions, the type that were strongest in Iraq during the early 1950s.
“For now, let’s get rid of ISIS, then we’ll sit down and talk,” Dr. Yasseen said. “You’re in a strong position to establish your rights because you have a voice that carries in two different directions – in America and in Iraq. Amplify it!”