Show your proof, Iraqis tell Peters

By Louisa Cleave, Ruth Berry

Iraqi refugees are feeling persecuted by Winston Peters and believe he should hand his information to the Government and stop dragging them through the mud, says Auckland Refugee Council president Dr Munjid Umara.

Using Parliamentary privilege, Mr Peters yesterday named three more men he alleged were senior Baath Party officials. The Herald contacted one of the men and he strongly denied the claims.

Dr Umara, a refugee from Iraq who has lived here for five years, last month supported Mr Peters in highlighting the presence of Amer Mahdi al-Khashali, a former Minister of Saddam Hussein's regime.

Yesterday Dr Umara said senior members of the Baath Party were "criminals" and should not be able to live here. But Mr Peters had gone too far and should hand over any information he had for investigation.

"Not all Iraqis are senior members of the Baath Party," he said.

The reputation of the 3000 to 4000 Iraqis living here was being smeared by the allegations and many were so distressed they were talking about leaving.

Mr Peters also risked provoking "dangerous" unrest between ethnic communities.

"He plays games with the Government because of the election, looking for people to support his propaganda on immigration.

It is not fair."

Mr Peters yesterday asked if the Immigration Minister was aware of "Amir Salman of Buckland's Beach, Omer Ali of Howick and a man named Jazwan, and whether they have connections to the murderous regime of Saddam Hussein; if so, what are they doing here?"

He said Omar Ali was "a former chief person in the police of Saddam Hussein". He identified the other two men as "Baath Party groups leaders".

Associate Immigration Minister Damien O'Connor said he could not confirm the claims. "The member has provided very little information. He has provided three names, one 'a man named Jazwan'. That is not sufficient to accurately identify people, let alone to work out whether the accusations ... are true."

He invited Mr Peters to meet him and provide more details.

Mr Peters suggested he would meet the Immigration Minister if he spent a week getting up to speed.

Mr Salman angrily denied the allegations, describing them as "the most stupid lies".

Thousands of Iraqis would defend him as "totally clean". He challenged Mr Peters to produce evidence that he was connected to the Baath Party. "There is no proof at all."

Mr Salman, 48, said he worked in Iraq as an electrical engineer and left in 1995, coming to New Zealand with his wife and three children as a skilled migrant. He denied ever belonging to the Baath Party and said he was a Shiite, oppressed by Hussein's regime.

Mr Salman said he ran two mechanic workshops in Auckland and had helped to establish a community support organisation, New Zealand Iraq Relief, to send money to children in Iraq.

Dr Umara said many Iraqi refugees had struggled to get to New Zealand and were coping with daily reports of bombings and deaths back home.

The last thing they needed was more of the persecution many had worked desperately hard to escape.

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