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Sunday, March 23

Michigan visit with Iraqi child left impression on Wolfowitz

By Lisa Zagaroli | The Detroit News

WASHINGTON - One of the Bush administration's top officials, Paul Wolfowitz, doesn't need to look farther than a 13-year-old boy he met in Dearborn, Mich., when he explains why the United States wanted to wage war on Iraq.

The deputy secretary of defense often recounts the story of Ahsan Alwatan, a boy who was kicked in the head by Iraqi soldiers when he was just a toddler, and other harrowing accounts from Iraqi immigrants in Michigan since he spoke to the Iraqi Forum for Democracy on Feb. 23.

In a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Washington on March 11 and in numerous news interviews ranging from ABC's "Good Morning America" and Newsweek to SKY TV and TV France, Wolfowitz has described "one wrenching story after another" from the Iraqi people he met in Dearborn who fled the terror of Saddam Hussein's regime and now pray for freedom for the friends and relatives they left behind.

"One man who's actually the imam of the largest mosque in the United States got up and said half, roughly half of his family of 30 had been slaughtered by the regime," Wolfowitz said in one television interview, referring to the comments of Sayed Hassan al-Qazwini of the Islamic Center of America.

"A man came up with (Ahsan Alwatan), who had been kicked in the head as an infant by an Iraqi soldier in order to try to get the kid's mother to tell where the father was. Somebody else came up with a handmade picture of his five family members who had been killed in 1991. It was one terrible story after another, a pleading for liberation."

Wolfowitz said when he was circulating in the crowd after the formal event was over, he realized the worst stories hadn't been voiced while the TV cameras were present.

"Why? First of all, many of them were afraid to be seen on a camera because they thought even in the United States Saddam could come and kill them," he said. "And secondly, and this is the most chilling thing, one of them said to me, 'No one will really tell you openly how extensive rape is as an instrument of terror and oppression because it's such a humiliating thing to talk about.' And then proceeded to tell me one of these horrible stories."

Ahsan Alwatan was a year old at the time, was assaulted in 1991 when Saddam's troops came to his parents' house to look for his father, uncle and other acquaintances who supported opposition forces. The troops allegedly beat the child to coerce his mother into revealing her husband's whereabouts.

"They start beating him with their boots until the blood was all over and he had brain damage," his uncle, Dave Alwatan, told Wolfowitz through an interpreter.

Dr. Maha Hussain, president of the Iraqi Forum, said it was obvious the meeting had an impact on Wolfowitz, and it opened doors for her and other leaders to be invited to the White House last week to meet with Vice President Dick Cheney and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Hussain says every Iraqi has an atrocity to share, ranging from disappearance to brutal murder of a family member.

"Part of the problem in the media is there's been a total blackout of how the Iraqi community feels. There was always someone speaking for us, it was never us speaking," Hussain said

"This was the first time that anybody had opened up the door and asked Iraqi Americans directly what they were thinking. ... It began with Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz starting that and we appreciate that."