As our country's attention shifts to Afghanistan, I cannot forget Iraq. Home for me is both Najaf, Iraq, and Minneapolis. I am an Iraqi-American with dual citizenship, and I write this letter as a plea for us, as Americans, to remember our Iraqi sisters and brothers.
After selling Sinbad's, my restaurant on "Eat Street" in Minneapolis, five years ago, I returned to Iraq. I founded the Muslim Peacemaker Teams to promote the principles of nonviolence and peace among the people of Iraq. Today I cannot forget the plight of Iraqis -- the women who are afraid to get pregnant because so many babies are born with severe deformities; the children who must drink dirty water contaminated with diseases; the thousands of people killed by violence; the 4 million refugees, and the country's spirit, torn by the trauma of war.
In recent months I have traveled around the Midwest, speaking to Americans about Iraq. I have been heartened by the many Minnesotans and Americans who have not forgotten Iraq. On July 31, the Minneapolis City Council voted unanimously to become sister cities with Najaf, and it deserves to be commended for this noble action.
In September, 13 delegates accompanied me from Najaf to the Twin Cities. The delegation included city council members; university deans and professors; women's rights activists; engineers, and members of Najaf's Chamber of Commerce. They loved Minneapolis, saying that the city is beautiful but not as beautiful as its people.
The delegates brought a message of friendship and peace but also pleaded for help rebuilding their country. In their meetings, delegates reported having little say over reconstruction projects under the U.S. occupation and decried the "brain drain" that has occurred during the past 19 years under sanctions and war. Many of the highly trained people needed to run hospitals, schools and universities and to repair infrastructure like roads, bridges, electrical plants and water-treatment facilities have been killed, uprooted as refugees or have fled the country. In short, the country has lost much of its capacity to rebuild.
In a spirit of expectation rather than anger, the delegates reminded Twin Cities residents that America's war on Iraq has destroyed their nation and that we have a moral and legal obligation to restore it. The delegates hoped that the military tanks and weapons in Iraq could be replaced with skilled professionals and resources under the direction of Iraqi leadership.
Citizens of both Najaf and Minneapolis have been eager to expand sister city activities. These projects represent an incredible opportunity and the beginning of an important relationship between residents of Minneapolis and Najaf.
In January, I returned to Iraq. I left Minneapolis with thanks for Americans' commitment to peace and their generous spirit. I left, also, with a plea: Let us remember the people of my other homeland, Iraq. Let us remember our brothers and sisters.
Sami Rasouli was the owner of Sinbad's on Nicollet Avenue. He is also a founder of the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project in Minneapolis and the Muslim Peacemaker Teams in Iraq.