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But privilege was no protection once the war started -- quite the opposite. As lawlessness took over the capital, prominent families were hunted down by kidnappers and religious extremists. In May , gunmen in a speeding car seized her husband as he left for work at an electronics import firm. Shifa watched from a window. It was the last time she saw him. But she did not get her husband back.

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She spent months scouring police stations, hospitals and morgues, studying hundreds of pictures of corpses, battered, burned and riddled with drill holes. Shifa and her daughter Ann, now 25, fled the country after receiving an envelope with a single bullet tucked inside. Bandits chased the car they hired to take them to Jordan. To pay it back, he sold a car.

While he was in court registering the ownership transfer, the kidnappers, who were watching him, called his cellphone. Six years of war have produced an estimated 2 million Iraqi refugees. Jordan and other neighboring countries have been overwhelmed.

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Refugee advocates have long pressed the United States to take in a greater share. This year, the U. Some refugees felt ambivalent about moving to America. Shifa, Ann and the Shalchis flew to the United States last September, as major financial institutions were crashing and jobs vanishing. The Shalchis landed in New York on Sept.

They sat on the floor in a holding area for five hours, before they were cleared to catch connecting flights. She delivered them to the home she had found for them, a tidy apartment complex in a leafy part of Folsom. Shifa and Ann arrived in Portland knowing no one.

A local charity met them at the airport and found them an apartment in a poor, heavily immigrant neighborhood. For refugees arriving in the U. They apply for Social Security numbers, food stamps and cash assistance; register for English classes; get health screenings; and start looking for a job. The government contracts with nonprofits including the New York-based International Rescue Committee, or IRC, to guide them through the process and toward independence. But a recent IRC report suggests that the nearly year-old system is failing new arrivals from Iraq by assuming that they quickly can become self-sufficient.

These days, the financial aid does not go far. The rest is meant to cover the services the agency provides in the first month, such as doctor appointments and registering children for school.

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Some refugees qualify for a program funded by the Department of Health and Human Services and a matching grant from a private aid agency. That program provides four to six months of additional financial and other help to those looking for work. The help is available for up to five years, but the amount will soon be reduced because of state budget cuts.

She will be on a mostly liquid diet until she can raise the money to replace the temporary fillings with crowns. But the coverage lasts for only eight months. When the program was established in , it was available for 36 months. Each morning, Avan sets out a typical Iraqi breakfast of flatbread, cheese and pickles. Although she has been in the U. Money remains a nagging worry. Anwer pores over job listings and has applied at several neighborhood grocery stores.

But because of the economy, overqualified Americans are lining up for every vacancy. The Iraqis are some of the most educated and skilled refugees to come here, aid workers say. Used to a middle-class life, many hope to work as doctors, lawyers or accountants. But recertification is costly and time-consuming.

So they are advised to at first pursue more typical refugee work as shop attendants and cleaners.

Under what circumstances were you obliged to leave Iraq in ? No one obliged me to leave. To put it very briefly, I wanted to stop my only son from being sent to the front where he was due to go for summer military training, which was the only way for a boy to avoid becoming a soldier after leaving high school, and being drafted in a stupid and bloody war.

I'm speaking about the Iran-Iraq war. The loss of my first homeland eventually brought me moral strength and a way of thinking and living differently, as well as a positive moral health which lets me transcend suffering only when I call upon it as a factor of creativity, and this given my life more openness and my suffering more humanity. How were you prevented from working before you left Iraq?

In Iraq, I published and worked in the cultural field. I wasn't banned from writing, but whole pages of my first novel, Layla et le loup Layla and the Wolf , were censored, as were many, many lines and expressions in my articles. There was a censor who acted in the government's name; he would read, monitor what "deceitful and seditious" writers the terms he used to refer to several of us were publishing. Then he would start censoring lines and even entire texts. Most of the time, the author, artist, or poet was put in jail. Did you encounter similar problems in the countries where you worked later?

Can your writings circulate freely in the Arab world today? No, never. I first worked, wrote, and published in Beirut in the early Seventies, at the time I was living there. Of the Arab capitals, Beirut is the one that offered Arab writers a definite freedom, and all of them benefited from it to an extreme degree. Its cultural life was so rich that it would be difficult to sum it up in a few pages. I'm now working on a book on cities and writing.

Stereotypology: Oppressed Arab Women

Most of my books were published in Beirut. I worked for the Lebanese press and published pieces in all of the major periodicals in the cultural field. I wrote whatever came into my head and I expressed what I was feeling. I published my first book, a collection of short stories, in Beirut, as well as my last novel.

Naphtalene: A Novel of Baghdad by Alia Mamdouh

For Beirut, like Rabat where I also lived, permits the most complete, beautiful, and courageous expression in the world. Has exile altered your way of writing and thinking about your work? Human beings are born to themselves in exile. And writers are especially solitary. There are writers who monopolize every one's attention and leave nothing to other writers. People call this arrogant, but I maintain that it's a kind of reserve and modesty arising from the intense light which scatters the seeds of creativity.

Writing must bring you nearer to the Other, while the writer has to remain totally elusive. After Beirut, I came to Paris. I spoke about Paris in an interview broadcast several times by al-Jazira television, which beams from Qatar. Paris has placed me in a halfway situation. It has enriched my language, my stories, my analyses, and my characters. I've learned a lot about myself here, I've found myself developing a sense of mockery, kindness, laughter, playfulness, courage, enthusiasm, a feel for existence.

My style has became more polished, warmer and less provocative. In spite of the difficulty I encounter in communicating in French, I face the world here, alone and in a new way.