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Iraqi Diaspora Returns to Battle U.S. Forces

Angered by the U.S.-led invasion of their country, Iraqis abroad and other Arabs are rallying behind the regime of Saddam Hussein. Some say they are willing to carry out suicide attacks.

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Ready to fight: Iraqi militia and and military recruits march during a graduation day ceremony.

Four days before the United States opened its war against Iraq on March 20, Vice President Dick Cheney appeared before a national television audience to assess the enemy he expected U.S.-led forces would face.

Dick Cheney

Vice President Dick Cheney

"The read we get on the people of Iraq is there is no question but what they want is to get rid of Saddam Hussein and they will welcome as liberators the United States when we come to do that," Cheney (photo) said on the NBC program Meet the Press.

A few moments later, the vice president also sized up the military resistance that could lie ahead. "I think the regular army will not (fight)," he said. "My guess is even significant elements of the Republican Guard are likely as well to want to avoid conflict with the U.S. forces, and are likely to step aside."

In the war's first 13 days, the conflict has had the opposite effect, sending out a patriotic message that has reached into the country's expatriate community and the Arab world as a whole. As a result, about 6,500 Iraqis have left their homes in Jordan to join the fight at home in Iraq, Jordanian officials in Amman have said.

Defending the homeland

"It is not about Saddam. It is not about the government, and it is not about religion," said the 34-year-old Raheem Hani, one Iraqi planning to leave Jordan. "It is about our country, which has been occupied by invaders. It is our duty to drive out the aggressors."

A group of travel agencies in the Jordanian capital has organized bus trips to the Iraqi border. A ticket costs the equivalent of €7 ($7.62). The Iraqi government gives them a free ride from there.

Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, also has served as the departure city for other potential volunteers. Thirty-six of them left the city for Iraq on Monday. The volunteers boarded a bus in front of the Iraqi Embassy in Beirut's Hazmiyeh district and recited the "shahada," the prayer that every observant Muslim should utter when he or she is about to die.

On the same day, a group of about 15 young Algerians went to the Iraqi Embassy in Algiers to volunteer for service. They faced one immediate problem -- they did not have the equivalent of €250 to pay for a plane ticket to Damascus. But a spokesman at the embassy, Schaker el Falahi, said in an interview with the wire service AFP that Algerian donors had been willing to help such volunteers.

One of the 15 Algerians, a young man named Ali, said he was prepared to fight even though he had no training in the use of firearms. "I don't need them anyway in order to hide a bomb or to blow myself up in a group of invaders," he said.

Suicide attacks kills four

Such attacks already have begun. On Saturday, four American infantrymen were killed in a suicide bomb attack in Iraq, and on Sunday a man in civilian clothes rammed a white pickup truck into a group of U.S. soldiers standing by a store at their base in Kuwait, injuring 15 people were injured.

Iraqi Army spokesman Gen. Hazem al-Rawi has said that many suicide attacks like the one Saturday in Najaf will be carried out by Iraqis and that about 4,000 Arabs have come as volunteers to fight the Americans and British.

"Martyrdom operations will continue not only by Iraqis but by thousands of Arabs who came to Baghdad," he told reporters. "They left their countries and families to come here and seek heaven. They promised no to return to their countries but to be buried in Iraq."

Franks urges caution

General Tommy Franks US-Zentralkommando Doha, Katar

Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. Central Command

Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of the allied coalition, said he was unsure whether the suicide attack Saturday and Sunday's attack on American forces in Kuwait were linked. He called the suicide attack "pure terrorism" and said his troops would henceforth exercise more caution in dealing with Iraqis. A spokesman for Franks' U.S. Central Command in Qatar also said the military would stop the Iraqis from returning to Baghdad.

But the threat of suicide attacks poses a large problem for U.S. forces. They could be caught in violent cycle of reprisal similar to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which might prolong the war and hamper crucial efforts to win the trust of Iraqi civilians.

In Amman, Ramadan Mohebes, an Iraqi exile, blamed the U.S.-led force for the problems. "It is war," Mohebes said. "We simply don't have any choice but to take up arms. The Americans would do that, too, if their country were attacked."

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