Doctor tries to bridge gap between his 2 countries

November 27, 1990|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Sun Staff Correspondent

CLINTON -- He understands Saddam Hussein. Has sympathy for the Iraqi government. Considers Kuwait part of Iraq and believes the U.S. military should have stayed out of the Persian Gulf conflict.

Even so, Iraqi-American Salim Y. Mansoor, director of physical medicine at Southern Maryland Hospital Center, is being heralded by his American colleagues and patted on the back by his American neighbors for his efforts in a crisis that has pitted his two countries against each other.

Last month, after meeting with President Bush at the White House and gaining his approval, Dr. Mansoor and six other Iraqi-Americans made a trip to the presidential palace in Baghdad, at their own expense,where they met with Mr. Hussein and helped secure the release of 14 U.S. hostages.

"We felt we could be of assistance and help in trying to bring peace to the area," says Dr. Mansoor, 52, president of the nearly year-old Iraqi-American Foundation.

He believes he has a lot at stake.

A resident of Great Falls, Va., he has spent about half his life in Iraq, half here. Like many of the other 250,000 Iraqi natives scattered across the United States -- mostly in Detroit and Chicago -- his sympathies are mixed.

"I'm an American citizen, but for sure my roots are still in Iraq," says Dr. Mansoor, who has two college-aged sons and one teen-aged daughter. "I was raised over there. I lived there until the age of 27.

"So we are torn. We have families over there. We have families over here. We have kids who are serving in the American army here and we have kids who are serving in the Iraqi forces over there. We don't want a war with our kids over here fighting their cousins over there. We are in the middle of a situation where we're trying to bring peace to the area because we don't want our motherland to be destroyed and we don't want our kids -- Americans as a whole -- to be hurt in the Saudi Arabian desert."

Dr. Mansoor, who graduated from the University of Baghdad school of medicine and then attended the George Washington University medical school for post-graduate work, says his group was "received courteously" on what he calls his "fact-finding mission" to Iraq.

Over tea and juice, the delegation spent more than two hours in conversation with Iraqi leaders. Much of the talk was about the hostages, whom Mr. Hussein refers to as "guests."

Mr. Hussein "said these people are caught in the cross-fire and he feels sorry for them, but he has to do it to deter an attack from the United States on his country," recalls Dr. Mansoor. "He says he will release all his 'guests' if the U.S. gives him a guarantee that they won't attack him.

"We told him it is the time right now to release the hostages. The American people don't like their people to be held, their freedom to be restricted. The American people still have the images of the hostages held in Iran during the Khomeini era. The Americans will be be more sympathetic to the cause, sympathetic with Iraqi policy maybe, or against war if the hostages are released.

"He was in agreement. He said, 'What you are saying is right, but I have to get a guarantee from the U.S. not to attack me.' "

The next day, Dr. Mansoor received a call from the Iraqi Foreign Ministry saying that Mr. Hussein would allow 14 U.S. citizens who had been held at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad -- six students, six who were sick and two whose parents were ill -- to leave with the delegation Oct. 23.

Mr. Hussein also agreed to Dr. Mansoor's suggestion that, should the hostages still be held in Iraq at Christmas, their families be allowed to visit.

"He's a man looking for peace," Dr. Mansoor says of Mr. Hussein. "He told me that everything is negotiable. Kuwait is negotiable. The West Bank is negotiable. Lebanon is negotiable. He wants to have peace in this region once and for all."

The Maryland doctor bristles when Mr. Hussein is portrayed as a Hitler or the "butcher of Baghdad," and he believes the Iraqi president's actions have been misrepresented by the news media and misunderstood by the public. And there have been many heated conversations with his colleagues about the crisis.

But Dr. Mansoor says no hostility has been directed at him. In fact, his neighbors congratulated him upon his return from Iraq, and the hospital presented him with a humanitarian award and a ceremonial dinner.

"I'm not defending anyone," he says. "I'm not defending the Iraqi government. I'm not defending the American government."

He says he only wants to put pressure on both to resolve the conflict without force.

"If one bullet, one shot, is fired by mistake, the whole area will be on fire. And who to blame?

! "You don't know."

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