Assyrians ready for action

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Posted by andreas from ( on Wednesday, January 15, 2003 at 12:29PM :

Sargon Dadesho


Assyrians ready for action

January 15, 2003 Posted: 05:05:12 AM PST

WASHINGTON -- Soon, Sargon Dadesho expects to be back in Iraq.

Dadesho's trip will be politically fraught, as the Modesto resident joins other international Assyrian figures in a bid to topple a regime and unite a scattered population.

"As far as the Assyrians were concerned, we were united for the first time," Dadesho said. "Everyone has the same agenda."

President of the Modesto-based Assyrian National Congress, Dadesho is among the most politically active Assyrians in the San Joaquin Valley.

Some estimates put the number of Assyrians living in the San Joaquin Valley at upward of 15,000. It's a population that's attracting attention of U.S. policy-makers and war planners, as the Bush administration mobilizes against Iraq.

The Pentagon, for instance, is offering $5,000 a month and special training for natives of Iraq willing to sign up as translators and guides. Dadesho said, "We have submitted a list of names" of potential recruits from the San Joaquin Valley.

The State Department, for its part, has recently designated the separate Assyrian Democratic Movement as one of the organizations eligible for federal money under a law designed to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The designation marks the first time an Assyrian group has become eligible since Congress passed the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998.

The Iraq Liberation Act has had rough spots, particularly as some officials have questioned the merits of funding fractured Iraqi opposition groups. Assyrian leaders, though, say the assistance is needed and overdue.

"We were ignored, really," said Modesto resident and Assyrian Democratic Movement member Batta Younan. "We were ignored all our lives."

Assyrians are Christians whose original civilization spanned the countries now known as Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria. They are a distinct minority in Iraq, accounting for less than 5 percent of the nation's population, according to the CIA World Factbook.

A former social studies teacher who has lived in the San Joaquin Valley since 1990, Younan said the Assyrian Democratic Movement funding will target efforts in northern Iraq. How much the organization will receive has not been determined.

A total of $97 million is available for military, humanitarian and broadcasting purposes under the Iraq Liberation Act, passed by Congress after Iraq stopped cooperating with U.N. arms inspectors.

"The people over there are so much in need," Younan said.

Dadesho, too, sees potential in the pot of money.

The State Department rejected an earlier request that would have helped support Dadesho's Assyrian television broadcasts reach Iraq. He has resubmitted the funding request, noting that broadcasts are bouncing from the Assyrian Cultural Center of Bet-Nahrain in Ceres to the other side of the world.

"It's amazing how many people are watching," Dadesho said.

He presumes that Saddam sympathizers are taping the broadcasts and taking them apart. He knows, after all, about Iraqi government methods.

He's waiting to collect some $2.4 million in frozen Iraqi assets, stemming from his lawsuit against the Iraqi government over a 1990 plot to murder him.

The United States controls some $1 billion in frozen Iraqi assets. Like the Clinton administration, the Bush administration had opposed using the money to pay civil lawsuit judgments; nonetheless, President Bush last year signed a law that permits victims of "state-sponsored terrorism" to tap the frozen Iraqi funds.

Dadesho, who won a judgment of $1.5 million and has since seen it grow through interest, said he hopes the money can be freed.

He also expects to reach northern Iraq in two or three weeks. He said he'll be traveling as one of eight leaders -- one of only two from the United States -- of the Assyrian Consultative Committee, a new umbrella group meant to coordinate efforts of various Assyrian organizations.

Bee Washington Bureau reporter Michael Doyle can be reached at (202) 383-0006 or

-- andreas
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