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Aid for Iraqi refugees in homeland is his mission

By WES ALLISON, Times Staff Writer
Published October 22, 2007


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photo
[Jamie Francis | Times (2004)]
Dr. Said Hakki is president of the Iraqi Red Crescent Organization, an apolitical, nonsectarian affiliate of the International Red Cross that delivers food, medicine and other relief.


WASHINGTON - Four years ago, Dr. Said Hakki left his medical practice and home in Largo for his native Iraq to serve as an adviser to the Ministry of Health.

Now he is president of the Iraqi Red Crescent Organization, an apolitical, nonsectarian affiliate of the International Red Cross that delivers food, medicine and other relief.

Hakki, 63, was an Iraqi health official before he fled the dictatorship for the United States in 1986. He established a urology practice at Bay Pines VA Medical Center. Except for brief visits back, he has been in Iraq since 2003, shortly after the U.S. invasion.

The St. Petersburg Times caught up with him last week in Washington, where he spent several days lobbying nongovernmental groups and members of Congress to help Iraqi refugees, some 1.5-million of whom are displaced within their country. About 2-million more have fled.

How can Washington help displaced Iraqis?

The U.S. is a superpower. It can use its good offices to ask the regional countries to pitch in and help. I talked to members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, and they all were very receptive.

 

What are you doing now to help the displaced?

We're trying to get to their urgent needs first, and then we're planning with the government of Iraq to see what the long term is for those people.

 

Where are they living?

They are not living in camps. They are living in abandoned government buildings and schools and churches and mosques, in the back yards of friends and relatives.

 

What are the major health problems those Iraqis face?

Malnutrition, diarrhea, waterborne diseases. We haven't reached a fearful level so to speak, but we're working with them and we're trying to resolve certain issues.

The United States had pledged to helped the Iraqis build 3,000 medical clinics. How is that going, and how is the Red Crescent helping?

They are building (them). I think 142 now. ... We're helping them regarding medicine, reaching areas they cannot reach. The Ministry of Health cannot go to some regions. We can.

 

Americans have heard mixed reviews about the effect of this summer's influx of 30,000 extra U.S. troops. Is it helping?

The surge in U.S. troops has helped in security, but the refugees, or the displaced people, (are there) not only because of security, but because of other issues: lack of services, lack of jobs, lack of education.

 

Many Democrats in Congress favor withdrawing most U.S. troops next year. What do you think would happen if that happened?

That's a political question, and I'd rather pass on that question. I'm not a politician and I'm not qualified to answer a political question.

 

At various points during the past four years, you have been optimistic. Are you more or less hopeful about the prospect of stability in Iraq?

As far as security is concerned, security is better now, so my optimism is still there, and actually I'm more optimistic. But the roots of the problems of this displacement are not new. This root is way deep, and goes back to the '80s and '90s when Saddam (Hussein) invaded Kuwait. It is a problem that has been there a quarter of a century. Building a country takes a long time, my friend. You can build a house in one year, but you can burn it in one hour.

Wes Allison can be reached at allison@sptimes.com or (202) 463-0577.

[Last modified October 21, 2007, 23:29:58]


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