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Hymn hits home for Iraqi

Visitor to Temple Square is heading Iraq reconstruction

Published: Monday, July 5 2004 12:00 a.m. MDT

As the Mormon Tabernacle Choir finished a collection of patriotic hymns on the anniversary of America's Independence, it broke into a simple melody of "God Be With You Till We Meet Again."

Sung weekly by the choir to end its TV broadcast and each Sunday by at least one Christian congregation somewhere in the world, the song has become almost commonplace with its faithful farewell.

But its message wasn't lost on a special visitor sitting in the darkness of the tabernacle's expanse, head lifted toward heaven in appreciation of the choir's resonant hymn.

The words of the third verse rang out loud and clear to him:

"God be with you till we meet again; Keep love's banner floating o'er you; Smite death's threat'ning wave before you. God be with you 'till we meet again."

The words could have been written for Emad Dhia, an Iraqi-American caught up in the reconstruction efforts in his native country.

Though his work there has made him the target of insurgents, Dhia holds strong to his belief that a democratic Iraq will be a better Iraq.

He clings to his Muslim faith and worries more about whether local schoolchildren have books than he does about his own safety.

Dhia adores Iraq, but until recently, it had been a bittersweet love affair.

Forced to flee the country in 1982 following the assassination of his aunt, a talented doctor, Dhia sought refuge in America, where he started a family and embraced democracy.

But leaving his country didn't mean he forgot it.

Dhia remembered his roots and became a strong supporter of the U.S. decision to invade Iraq and force Saddam Hussein from power.

And when America needed someone to head the Iraqi Reconstruction and Development Council last year, his work as the leader of the Iraqi Forum for Democracy made him the natural choice.

But he won't take any credit.

"Hundreds of people are working 24 hours a day, seven days a week to build a free nation," said Dhia, who recently toured Utah as a recipient of a Freedom Festival Award in Provo for his work in Iraq.

"We just want to help the Iraqis, not gain some sort of office."

Standing outside the Salt Lake tabernacle with his wife, Basma Fakri, and his 15-year-old son Al, Dhia minced no words in explaining why America made the right decision to invade Iraq.

"A lot of Iraqis now are so happy with the change," he said. "They have more money. They have food. They have no fear."

The night before, Dhia had been equally passionate before an audience of 60,000 at the Stadium of Fire celebration in Provo, declaring that no weapons of mass destruction have been located by U.S. troops because they had all been buried in a mass grave by Saddam's henchmen.

And besides, he said, those weren't the greatest threat.

"Saddam himself is a weapon of mass destruction," he said.

His wife agrees. As president of the Women's Alliance for a Democratic Iraq, she is helping educated women take leadership roles in a new Iraq, as well as finding educational opportunities for women who were denied that opportunity under Saddam's regime.

It's one of the perks of freedom, she says, and something she refuses to take for granted.

"Freedom is precious. We all need to defend it," Fakri said. "We know that because we came from tyranny."

All of this is a little overwhelming for their son, Al. He's proud of his family, but he has lived his entire life in America and doesn't truly understand the horror experienced by his parents and his cousins who were left behind.

His father, however, recalls the terror of living under Saddam. And he remembers the injustice.

Now, he is focused on a promising future — one that he says the media doesn't see.

"Unfortunately, most of the media is only concerned with what is going on in the battlefield," Dhia said. "The press is not as good as it could be, because there are a lot of wonderful things happening in Iraq."

And it's hard not to believe Dhia's strong faith in an Iraqi-American partnership and a bright future for his homeland.

It brings to mind the words of another tune sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir as Dhia listened. And, once again, the lyrics to "America the Beautiful" could have been written for this modern pioneer.

"O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife. Who more than self the country loved and mercy more than life."


E-mail: lwarner@desnews.com

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