Iraqi refugees living in the US watch their home country closely

The World

Smoke rises from a oil refinery in Baiji, north of Baghdad, in this picture taken through the windscreen of a car, June 19, 2014. Iraqi government forces battled Sunni rebels for control of the country's biggest refinery on Thursday as Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki waited for a US response to an appeal for air strikes to beat back the threat to Baghdad.


Sara Darwish is a young Iraqi medical doctor working part-time in a community clinic near San Diego. She and her family arrived in the US last year, refugees from the war.

The news from home, from Iraq, about ISIS militants advancing closer to Baghdad is troubling.

"It's really painful to be away," she says, "sitting here away from home and watching all the news on TV and seeing people suffering there. So it's actually harder than being there on the spot like before."

Darwish says it's difficult to get a clear idea of what's going on in Iraq. She's relying on Facebook, watching Arabic news channels and the monitoring the Internet to hear the latest. The news she is getting makes her anxious. "It's like an obsession, checking the Iraqi TV channels all the time. And I've installed apps on the my phone just to be updated with the news. I find it hard to concentrate."

Darwish's family ties are mostly in Baghdad. When she speaks with friends and family who are still living there, she says she can hear the nervousness in their voices. "People are very anxious and are actually now taking measures to prepare in case they can't go out of their homes, storing food and medication."

She is also keeping in touch within her local community of Iraqi refugees. She says conversations are "mostly about how sorry we feel for our families and friends who feel like they are trapped there." For the time being, she says there really is not much to do, "aside from praying for them, because it's much more complicated than what people can do. It requires something governmental or higher. I don't know if there's anything we can do for them. Still, I'm trying to think how to help close friends. Perhaps just talking to them, praying for them is what I can do right now."

At times like this, Darwish says she keeps reminding herself that "we're strong people, and we've made it through many harder times so it’s just one of those hard times and hopefully things will get better."

Ali Haddad is an Iraqi refugee who lives in Indianapolis. He works with Exodus Refugee Immigration agency helping to find jobs for the city’s refugee population.

This July will mark two years since he moved to the US. Haddad finds the news out of Iraq troubling, and he worries that if ISIS militants advance on Baghdad, there could be genocide and more mass killings.   

“I have family in Baghdad, my wife’s family is in Baghdad, and my friends are there. It’s affecting how I work. I listen to the news all the time. When I’m at my computer, I put my headphones on, but instead of listening to music, I listen to the news because I’m worried. And when I go home I watch the news with my family. Really, I feel like I’m living 2006-2007 again — it’s the same feeling. It’s like we have to know every detail.”

Haddad has tried to stay in touch with his family and friends by calling them daily. He reminds them that he keeps them in his thoughts, “and in my heart and I tell them we love you and we are praying for you but there’s nothing we can do for them. They are far away from us. I wish that all my family and friends were here with me and safe but I think this is impossible.”

He says he thinks about his close friend Yusuf, who’s from a Christian village in Mosul. “I’m so afraid. He’s now living in Baghdad. If ISIS enters Baghdad, if they win the battle of Baghdad, the first thing that they will do is start a  genocide against the minorities, against Christians, and they will start with the Shias. But my friend, Yusuf ,he can’t flee to Najaf, or Karbala, and he can’t go back to Mosul. The road between Mosul and Baghdad is controlled by ISIS."

"He’s like so many other Christians, and Shias, stuck in Baghdad.”