Local Chaldeans react to the tragic situation in Iraq

By John Carroll
The situation in Iraq is being watched closely by San Diego’s large Chaldean community.
Many here have family still living in Iraq. On Friday, a local Chaldean leader gave San Diego 6 a chilling assessment of the situation unfolding overseas.

“Today’s the third day which is … I have no contact with them,” said Johnny Matti, who was born in Iraq but has lived in El Cajon for the last 15 years.

He said he’s been trying to reach his uncle and cousins in Iraq since Tuesday. They live, or lived in Tikrit. The last time he communicated with them, they told him they were leaving Tikrit before the insurgents got there. They said they were headed to Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul.

“I know they get to Mosul but since then… that was it,” Matti said. “There was no more contact with them.

We now know that Mosul has since fallen.

“Every day, every hour it’s getting worse,” said Mark Arabo, president and CEO of the Neighborhood Market Association.
Arabo is a first-generation American. His parents are both from Baghdad. In a conversation Friday afternoon with San Diego 6, his assessment of the situation in Iraq and what can be done about it was stunning.

“This is a slow genocide in Iraq,” he said. “The UN should come together, NATO should come together and say let’s support a mass exodus. Let’s find a home for all these families because there’s no home in Iraq.”

Arabo didn’t mince words when it came to how we got to this point. “A failed foreign policy in 2003 when they did not secure the borders… American lives have been lost, trillions of dollars, innocent Iraqi children, families have been killed… for nothing,” he said.

Chaldeans have immigrated to San Diego for years now, but given the current situation in Iraq, those numbers may well increase in the coming weeks and months. Arabo said if they can make it here, they’ll find plenty of support.

“The Chaldean community is very tight knit, we take care or each other,” Arabo said.
“Refugees come, we find them housing, we find them jobs, we give them clothing, mattresses, everything,” he said.

“They’re killing more and more people every day,” Johnny Matti said. He and many others like him in the local Chaldean community are now glued to the television, watching with a sense of despair, and helplessness.

“I’m praying for them, that’s all I can do. I mean, there’s nothing I can do for them except like just praying and then, I hope like everybody they’ll be OK over there,” Matti said.

Apart from the humanitarian crisis, Mark Arabo said, there is a larger danger with the unrest spilling out beyond Iraq’s borders, into a region which is already a tinder box.

That outlook was backed up Friday for UCSD political science professor Barbara Walter, who said the next concern is Afghanistan. She said a similar scenario is entirely possible there after the U.S. military completes its withdrawal.