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May 14, 2003 10:08 PM

Year Of Fear

Click here to watch this story(Windows Media) You might think you've learned a lot about the former dictator of Iraq. But imagine standing face to face with Saddam Hussein, and being responsible for his family's medical care. That's how two Sioux Falls doctors spent part of their residencies. It was an education in a lot more than medicine. In the Iraqi town of Tikrit, life used to revolve around native son Saddam Hussein. Ali Jassim says, "They think they own the world and Iraq and everybody there is like a slave to them." After graduating from medical school 25 years ago, Ali and Sukaina Jassim became residents at the hospital in Tikrit. And while she's saved plenty of photos from their last days in college, there are none from the year that follow. Because, they say, you take pictures when you want to remember. Sukaina Jassim says, "I was in fear the whole year. I was in fear." Ali says, "Their basic idea is you terrorize the people and make them submit to you and basically you become like a hostage to them." Then vice-president Saddam Hussein frequently visited Tikrit. That's when everyone, including the medical residents, was forced to drop what they were doing to praise the leader. Sukaina refused. Sukaina says, "I hid in the bathroom because then nobody would know." The Hussein heritage ran so deep in Tikrit. Most of the family still lived there, including Saddam's mother. Ali says, "I think he got all his genes from his mom because his mom was a very vicious person." There is very little written about the woman who gave birth to the future leader of Iraq. Ali knows more than most people. She was one of his patients. Ali says, "We go to even take her temperature, she doesn't allow anybody to touch her. Your bare hand can't touch her, and I have seen her really blast nurses and specialists." The Jassims also treated Saddam's youngest son, Qusai, then eight years old. Ali says, "We thought he might have appendicitis. The problem is this kid was basically wrapped with guns and straps of bullets." Sukaina says, "We just can't ever touch the boy, because if we touch him they'd think we were hurting him, so we were so afraid." Hussein visited the hospital twice during the year the Jassims spent in Tikrit. Ali says the vice president considered himself a medical expert, even though he'd never gone to colllege. Ali says, "Whatever nonsense he would say you would accept it." And once, he agreed to meet with Ali and other doctors about a research proposal. Ali recalls before he could meet Saddam, the Jassim's family history was inspected for anything politically suspicious. Ali says, "You have to go through so many metal detectors and questionnaires." When they finally met, they didn't shake hands. Ali says despite TV images, the real Saddam Hussein will only shake the hand of another head of state. Ali says, "I remember he was sitting at a big, luxurious table. And he doesn't look at you, you talk. And he will scribble some notes. But you could tell this guy, he's not an easy guy." Saddam didn't speak at all during their brief meeting. The only response was received weeks later from his office. Ali says, "I didn't have respect for him. The only thing was, I was in fear." At the end of the year, Sukaina gave birth to a son, prompting the family to decide to leave the country. As soon as it's safe, they'll return after 23 years away from their homeland. Now the dictator who forced them to leave is gone, this family is creating new memories instead of reliving old nightmares. When the Jassims return, they'll get to see their family who still live in Iraq. The only time they've been able to speak freely was a few years ago in Jordan, because the family feared the government monitored Iraqi phone lines.

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