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Former Minneapolis resident works to bridge divisions in Iraq
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Sami Rasouli is in Fallujah with other Muslims and Christians as part of what he calls a symbolic clean up effort. (MPR file photo)
A Minnesota resident is among a group of Iraqis and others who will lead a clean up team in the destroyed city of Fallujah. Sami Rasouli is the former owner of Sindbad's restaurant on Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis. He sold his business a few months ago and returned to his homeland of Iraq to help his family and the country recover from the war. He's a member of a group called the Muslim Peacemakers Team. They're cooperating with a group called the Christian Peacemakers Team in activities they hope will prevent civil war.

St. Paul, Minn. — Sami Rasouli had just finished a meeting with other group members at a hotel in Baghdad when the phone connection with Minnesota was established. It was late in the evening and Rasouli said there'd been a big bomb explosion somewhere nearby. Neither he nor any of the others were hurt.

Rasouli says conditions for people in many Iraqi cities are not good.

"My family are OK, but security for them and the other people, the average people, the regular people is a big, big problem," he says.

Rasouli, an American citizen, opposed this country's invasion of his homeland. He's a native of Najaf, a southern city. His three sisters and extended family live in Iraq. He came to United States 26 years ago before Saddam Hussein came to power. He taught school in a couple of foreign counries, arrived in the United States and landed in Minneapolis where he drove taxi before opening his successful south Minneapolis restaurant and deli.

He's in Fallujah with other Muslims and Christians as part of what he calls a symbolic clean up effort.

"(We brought) some brooms and shovels and gloves and trash bags to go knock at the doors, collect the garbage; tell them we are from different parts of the country, the south, to show you that we are undivided country, one undivided people and we feel with you," Rasouli says.

Terror is still intensifying and...they feel like they were just put aside.
- Sami Rasouli, former owner of Sindbad's restaurant in Minneapolis

He says Muslim factions are also trying to make peace. A group of Sunni's is supplying health care to people in principally Shia cities.

Still, Rasouli says, divisions run deep among religious factions and among groups from different regions. He says many do not feel they have a stake in the effort to form Iraq's interim government. Rasouli fears civil war.

"Terror is still intensifying and...they feel like they were just put aside," he says.

Rasouli's group, the Muslim Peacemakers Team is cooperating with a U.S. and Canadian organization called the Christian Peacemakers Team. The Christian group is a project of the Mennonite churches, Church of the Brethren and Friends United Meeting.

Fallujah was nearly destroyed by U. S. and coalition forces late last year in an effort to root out insurgents. By various accounts thousands of city residents who fled the fighting have returned. Some services such as water and electricity have been partially restored.

Rasouli cites a tenet of Islamic theology to describe how he feels about his own personal safety on the trip to Fallujah.

"Our fate could be already written and whether we be safe or unsafe this is...not that important. Our safety is Iraq's safety; our safety is the U. S. people's safety and the U.S. men and women in uniform' safety," he says.

Rasouli still has family and a wide circle of friends here in Minnesota.

"Please tell them that I miss them a lot and I'll be back soon for a visit, and God bless you and God bless the U.S. and protect the U.S."