April 6, 2003
PATERSON, N.J. -- The last time Yasin Said spoke by telephone to his parents in Baghdad, the war was two days old.
Fuel was already scarce and extremely expensive, and little food could be found beyond what the government distributed. But at least the water and lights were still on, and the phones worked.
"I begged them to leave Baghdad, but they said it is for God to decide," Said recalled. "They said 'If we live, we live; if we die, we die.' I felt really depressed. They said the people were afraid and there was no security."
The next day, phone links to Baghdad went dead, leaving Said and thousands of other Iraqis living in the United States only fleeting images on television to be pored over for clues to how their loved ones are faring.
On March 28, Said saw his brother-in-law's mechanic shop in television footage of a Baghdad marketplace that was obliterated by an explosion. Iraqi officials said at least 50 people were killed and blamed it on a U.S. missile.
"We have no idea if he is dead or alive," said Said, a medical technician who lives in Nutley, N.J. "We know he was there."
Hussein Al-Rikabi, of Paterson, last spoke to his mother in Nasiriya a few days before the war began.
"It felt to me like it might be the last time we ever spoke," said Al-Rikabi, a former Iraqi soldier who surrendered to American troops in the 1991 Gulf War. "She said she wanted to see me. I told her I loved her, that I always would love her, no matter what happens."
Rahim Al-Mubalik, also from Paterson, has been trying to reach his parents, brothers and sisters in Najaf since the fighting began.
"All we know is what we see on TV, and it doesn't look good," he said.
He stared intently at television images beamed by satellite from the Arab network Al-Jazeera into his favorite cafe. "Look, look!" he shouted excitedly as the TV showed clips of U.S. soldiers using a battering ram to break down a door in a building in Najaf. He searched in the scene for any buildings or people that looked familiar, sighed, and lit another cigarette.
In the Philadelphia suburb of Upper Merion, Pa., Safa Shubat last heard from his sister in eastern Baghdad about an hour after the March 19 cruise missile attack on the compound where Saddam Hussein was believed to be.
"They were a little surprised and somewhat disappointed that it wasn't something that would take care of the situation right away," he said. In the Iraqi expatriate community in and around Los Angeles, Basam Alhussaini said he last reached his mother and four sisters in Baghdad the day after the war started.
"I can't even concentrate on working. I sit up all night watching TV," said Alhussaini, an engineer who fled Iraq in 1987 and now lives in San Dimas, Calif. He said he calls every morning, but each time hears nothing on the other end of the line.
Imam Mostafa Al-Qazwini, of the Islamic Educational Center of Orange County, Calif., lost contact with his relatives in Iraq about a week ago.
"There's nowhere safe," he said. "They'd rather stay in their homes and just face their fate."