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NPR: Ethnic Chechens Caught Up in Iraq Violence

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    National Public Radio (NPR) SHOW: Weekend Edition Sunday 12:00 PM EST September 30, 2007 Sunday Ethnic Chechens Caught Up in Iraq Violence JAMES HATTORI JAMES
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      National Public Radio (NPR)
      SHOW: Weekend Edition Sunday 12:00 PM EST
      September 30, 2007 Sunday

      Ethnic Chechens Caught Up in Iraq Violence
      JAMES HATTORI

      JAMES HATTORI, host:

      In Iraq's Diyala province is a village called Chechen. And yes, its
      residents are ethnic Chechens. They're 800 miles away from their
      traditional homeland in Southern Russia. The 30 Chechen families in
      the village have tried to steer clear of the ongoing violence around
      them. But the Chechens have now become the latest victims in Iraq's
      sectarian warfare.

      NPR's Jamie Tarabay reports.

      JAMIE TARABAY: He's got light brown hair and his blue eyes are tired
      from worry and days without sleep. Munsi Mahmoud(ph), one of the
      Chechen community's leaders has spent the past few days placing people
      from his village into the homes of sympathetic neighbors. They were
      forced to flee after Shiite militiamen targeted their village in
      retaliation for an attack on one of their villages earlier this month.

      Mr. MUNSI MAHMOUD (Chechen Community Leader): (Through translator)
      Al-Qaida - whatever you call it - struck the Shiites in the village of
      Balar(ph), killed 14. They were able to attack Balar by coming through
      the orchards.

      TARABAY: In response, Mahmoud says, Shiite militias gathered in their
      hundreds and turned on the nearest Sunnis they could find - the
      Chechens. The militiamen attacked the Chechen village and burned down
      most of its houses and orchards. The Iraqi army intervened and managed
      to evacuate the local before the entire village went up in flames,
      says Mahmoud.

      Mr. MAHMOUD: (Through translator) If the Iraqi army hadn't come, it
      would have all been gone. They brought everyone out. But even on the
      road, the militias were firing on us.

      TARABAY: Among the wounded Chechens were women and children. Mahmoud
      and other village elders went to the mayor's office in the nearby town
      of Muqtadiya to appeal for help. Mayor Najem Harbi says the Chechens
      are peaceful people.

      Mayor NAJEM HARBI (Muqtadiya, Iraq): (Through translator) I can tell
      you, these people have nothing to do with the sectarian war. They are
      educated, liberal and peaceful.

      TARABAY: Most of the Chechens who live here are third or fourth
      generation descendants of those who wandered from Russia, traversing
      Persia and reaching Iraq almost 200 years ago. Mahmoud, the village
      elder, says Chechens live in Mosul, Irbil and Kirkuk in Iraq's north.
      Others traveled as far as Jordan, Syria and Turkey.

      The U.S. militaries had a long-standing relationship with the Chechens
      here. Lieutenant Anthony Vomplinsky(ph) from Apache Troop of the 69th
      Cavalry of the 1st Cavalry Division remembers the first time his
      patrol stumbled into the Chechen village nearly a year ago. There, he
      says, he saw men with hair that was whiter than snow.

      Lieutenant ANTHONY VOMPLINSKY (Apache Troop, 69th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry
      Division): We drove down there and the Muqta or the head guy of the
      this area came out, spoke pretty good English, stopped us and asked to
      take us around his town. Seemed like he was very proud of his town,
      very proud of his people down there and stuff like that.

      TARABAY: Vomplinsky says the U.S. military has never had any problems
      with the Chechens.

      Lt. VOMPLINSKY: They usually kept to themselves. They don't really
      come out and do much dealings with Muqtadiya in general. They
      understand that their symbiotic relationship - they're going to feed
      off of the other and this is the inevitability of living close to each
      other.

      TARABAY: Mahmoud, the Chechen village elder, said his people have
      always tried to be friendly with their Iraqi-Arab neighbors. But he
      believes their mere presence and ownership of Iraqi land would someday
      create problems for his village.

      Mr. MAHMOUD: (Through translator) Even until now, the Arabs look at
      us, our lands, like we are different. Their aim has always been to
      take back our land. This has been their intention for a very long time.

      TARABAY: Mahmoud says he doesn't know how to speak the language of his
      forefathers. He only speaks Arabic. He considers himself an Iraqi. But
      like other minorities in this country, he thinks he and his people
      will never be accepted no matter how long they live here.

      Jamie Tarabay, NPR News.
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