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Iraqi Exiles Celebrating Ramadan

December 21, 1998

POMONA, Calif. (AP) _ When they next break their dawn-to-dusk fast, the Al-Qazweeni family plan to sit down to eat a meal of meats, sweets and other foods.

But instead of the joy that usually accompanies the celebratory meals during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, there will be sadness as the Iraqi family thinks of their loved ones back home in the aftermath of the U.S.-British airstrikes on their homeland.

``It’s a very somber mood,″ said Jafar Al-Qazweeni, as he sat with his parents and two other siblings in their home about 40 miles east of downtown Los Angeles over the weekend. ``Usually, it’s a much happier occasion. However, this year it reminds us of our relatives back home who are frightened.″

He said the family’s worry has been compounded _ not relieved _ since Saturday, when President Clinton called off an air offensive designed to punish Saddam Hussein’s regime for obstructing United Nations weapons inspectors.

No final casualty toll has been released, but previous reports indicated at least 42 Iraqis were killed and 96 wounded over the four nights of joint U.S. and British attacks.

``We are concerned about what is going to happen next,″ said Jafar, who helps run the family-founded City of Knowledge School, which serves about 300 families in the Pomona area. ``There are the consequences. That’s what the Iraqi people are afraid of. The consequences. When Saddam gets panicked and takes his wrath against the people.″

The Al-Qazweenis, who hail from a family of prominent religious leaders in Iraq, immigrated to the United States in 1989 after more than a dozen relatives were arrested for speaking out against Saddam’s regime.

They now live in an upscale, two-story home in a quiet residential neighborhood, but they say their relatively comfortable lifestyle reminds them of loved ones back home who are suffering under sanctions imposed by the United Nations.

Atekeh Al-Qazweeni, Jafar’s sister, looks grim as she describes an unsuccessful three-year effort to send a much-needed jacket to a nephew in Iraq. People traveling to Iraq usually only accept money instead of cumbersome packages, she said.

Ramadan, which began Sunday in the United States, lasts for 30 days. Most Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, sex and cigarettes from dawn to dusk, and the holiday ends with a celebration in which people put up special decorations and exchange gifts.

This year, the family plans to focus their prayers during Ramadan on people back home. Al-Qazweeni said the Southern California Iraqi community will also try to raise money to send to people in Iraq.

About 50,000 native Iraqis live in Southern California, forming part of the second-largest Iraqi community in the United States. The largest is in Michigan.

The community has been hit hard emotionally by the attacks, with many people initially hoping President Clinton would not follow up on his threat to bomb Iraq if Saddam failed to comply with weapons inspections.

``I’d hoped that, but I think that Mr. Clinton doesn’t follow our hope,″ Imam Mortada Al-Qazweeni said with sad smile.

Kothar Milani, an Iraqi woman attending a Muslim prayer service at the City of Knowledge School, was angry about the attacks, saying Saddam Hussein should instead be forced from power or put on trial.

``It is sad and it’s funny because the result is going to show up during Ramadan, when people want peaceful times,″ Milani said. ``Instead they have to think about people being killed.″

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