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Iraq Journals

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Monday, April 7

Iraqi expatriates help find answers to rebuilding questions

By Jennifer Brooks | The Detroit News

DETROIT - For Ramsey Jiddou, rebuilding Iraq has nothing to do with power struggles and everything to do with power grids and water pipes and waste treatment plants - the things he can fix.

Jiddou, a former Iraqi government official, is working with the Bush administration on plans for a postwar Iraq. The chemist, who now shuttles regularly between his home in Plymouth, Mich., and Washington, was on the working group at the State Department that drew up plans for Iraq's water, pollution and agriculture concerns.

"I'm basically a technical guy. I'm offering my support, my technical expertise to the team,'' said Jiddou, who fled Iraq in the 1970s under threat of arrest after he refused to become a member of the ruling Baath Party.

On Friday, Jiddou was one of five Detroit Iraqis who met with President Bush to discuss plans for Iraq's reconstruction.

The Bush administration started laying the groundwork for a postwar Iraq long before the war started. And from the start, many of those plans centered around Detroit, home to an estimated 150,000 Iraqi Americans, the largest Iraqi community in the United States.

Jiddou is just one of dozens of Iraqi expatriates who have been tapped as advisers. With him Friday at the White House were Chaldean businessman Jacob Bacall, brother of a former Iraqi general who fled the country after the invasion of Kuwait; Sam Kareem, a Detroit resident whose father died after being tortured in an Iraqi prison; and Maha Hussain and Emad Dhia of the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Iraqi Forum for Democracy.

"The Iraqi expatriates, they (would) really like to have a chance to serve the rebuilding of Iraq in the days after liberation. This is our ultimate goal,'' Dhia said Friday after his meeting with the president and with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who has been actively recruiting Iraqi assistance in Michigan for months. Wolfowitz spoke to the Iraqi Forum for Democracy on Feb. 23 in Dearborn, Mich.

The administration's plan calls for a government that is a blend of exiles, members of the semi-autonomous Kurdish democratic government that has been operating in the north for the past decade, and holdouts from the current Iraqi bureaucracy.

When the war ends, Jiddou plans to return to Iraq for as long as it takes to rebuild his homeland's water system.

But Dhia believes his own role in a postwar Iraq would be of short duration, as would the involvement of many other Iraqi Americans.

"We are willing to leave our families and children here in the United States to go into Iraq and help in the process. Once it is done, we come back here to our homes,'' he said Friday.

"We want to have the opportunity to help in the rebuilding process and the reconstruction process of Iraq. And I mean it by all aspects, not only by the physical construction, actually - even the Iraqi humans have been under siege for 34 years.''