- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 26, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 26 (UPI) — In an effort to detect potential terror trails between al Qaida and Saddam Hussein, the U.S. government is to question up to 50,000 Iraqis living in the United States, the chairman of the Iraqi-American Council told United Press International Sunday.

FBI agents are to fan out across the country and interview tens of thousands of Iraqi-Americans, most of whom have lived here since the 1991 Gulf War, said Aziz al-Taee.

"We are concerned about the consequences," al-Taee told UPI.

Last month the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service launched a nationwide program to register, photograph and fingerprint more than 75,000 male nationals, and who are 16 years and older, from more than a dozen Arab and Islamic countries. This edict did not include those holding U.S. citizenship or permanent residence status.

According to the Iraqi-American Council, there are more than 300,000 Iraqis currently living in the United States, many of whom are American citizens or permanent residents — those holding what commonly is referred to as a "green card."

Al-Taee said the government was more interested in those who immigrated here since the 1991 Gulf War.

"I would not be surprised," said a U.S. State Department official about the FBI investigation of Iraqis. Speaking on condition of anonymity, added, "Iraqis would know more about Iraq than anyone else."

"Our position about this is that Iraqi-Americans should not be ethnically targeted," al-Taee said. "We object to the fact that any ethnicity should be targeted."

Similar concerns about Arabs being singled out since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks have been voiced by other Arab-American groups in the United States.

Al-Taee told UPI his organization has contacted the Justice Department and voiced its concerns about a possible backlash.

"The average American does not know the difference between a pro- and an anti-Saddam Iraqi," al-Taee said. He said he feared over-zealous law enforcement agents might vent their frustrations on Iraqi-Americans, especially if war with Iraq was to break out.

In conducting these interviews, the U.S. government hopes to uncover potential links between forces loyal to Osama bin Laden's al Qaida network and the Iraqi intelligence service, known as the Mokhabarat.

"The Mokhabarat is not as active in the United States now, as it was in the 1980s," said al-Taee. "They got weaker in the 1990s."

It would not be unusual for Saddam to have tried to infiltrate agents, along with some of the thousands of refugees who have sought safe haven in the United States.

"We know that he does this stuff," the State Department official told UPI.

Al-Taee told UPI he believed Saddam's intelligence services could find sympathizers among the Muslim fundamentalists. Although Saddam started out as an Arab Nationalist, and his Baath Party is founded along non-sectarian and non-religious lines, he recently has shifted closer toward Islam in efforts to rally Muslim fundamentalists closer to his cause. On Saddam's orders, the largest mosque in the world — the Mother of all Battles Mosques — recently was erected in 15 miles outside Baghdad.

"The only thing in common between the fundamentalists and Saddam is their hatred of the United States," al-Taee said.

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