Iran + 1 more

Iraqis in Iran dream of returning home

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by Farshid Motahari, dpa

Khoramshahr, Iran (dpa) - Another blast is heard in the southwestern Iranian port of Khoramshahr, which means another bomb was fired by allied forces on neighbouring Basra in south Iraq.

For the 34-year-old Abol-Hassan it is a sign of hope of returning home again after almost twelve years of being a refugee in Khoramshahr.

"You only understand what homeland is when you don't have it,'' he says.

Abol-Hassan, a Shiite Moslem, came to Iran from Basra after the 1991 Shiite Moslem uprising against Saddam Hussein was brutally suppressed by the regime's forces.

At the age of 23, he was sent by his father, an active member of the anti-Saddam movement, away from the Iraqi regime to Iran's Khuzestan province for safekeeping.

He received help in Iran from local officials and the leading Shiite opposition group, the Supreme Council of Iraq (SCIRI), and eventually started work as a peddler in Khoramshahr.

"I heard that my father was killed in Kerbala in 1995, but I still have an elderly mother and two older sisters waiting for me to take care of them,'' he says.

Because of his father's political activities, there is still fear that Abol-Hassan too might be arrested and jailed.

His hope to return to his family however overshadows the fear that they might be killed during the attacks. "Being killed is better than continuing life under Baath domination,'' he says.

The head of the SCIRI office in the Khuzestan province cannot hide the smile on his face that reflects his hope of finally returning to his beloved homeland.

On the other hand, the Teheran-based Shiite group is not at all pleased that such a hope could eventually only be realised through U.S. and British help.

"If the aim is really the liberation of the people, then the allied forces will be awarded by the people with flowers and sweets,'' Salah says, but in line with Teheran's official stance, he adds that the Americans and Britons are only after Iraq's rich oil resources and regional domination.

He predicts that the longer military operations in south Iraq take, the more Iraqis will get nervous, especially listening to Iraqi propaganda on state television, the country's main news source.

Iraqi TV is presenting the global anti-war demonstrations as support for Saddam's Baath regime, thus increasing Iraqis irritation, Salah says.

Like Abol-Hassan, the SCIRI official has only one thing in mind: Returning home after decades of forced exile.

Asked when he would be ready to return to Iraq, he says: "Right now, this second.'' dpa fm rds mga

AP-NY-03-24-03 0732EST

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