By SEAMUS KEARNEY

Muna talks about her dream of one day being able to freely return to Iraq, not because she wants to live there again, but because she wants to visit a special place in Baghdad. .

"My young son is there," she says. "He was killed in an accident and he is buried there.

"The only reason I would go back would be to visit him, not to live there, not to have a holiday there, not even to go back and sell the things I left behind. I would do it just to visit my son's grave."

Muna and her husband, Sinan, arrived in New Zealand as asylum seekers four years ago. The quietly spoken pair, aged in their 50s, agreed to be interviewed only if their names were changed and they were not photographed.

They are genuinely worried about the possibility of retribution against their families in Baghdad.

"We are damaged goods," sighs Muna, who worked in Iraq as an administrator.

Two of their Iraqi friends agreed to be interviewed on the same basis. "Sami" and his wife "Layla" have been here for three years, and are among about 2500 Iraqis now living here.

The four explain that their fear and suspicion are the result of years of living under Saddam Hussein's regime. The climate of fear turns neighbour upon neighbour and reaches as far as New Zealand.

"Even my son," says Muna. "If he is half an hour late, I will be running to the door. They say, 'Mum, we are in New Zealand, not in Iraq'. We can't help it. It is just the way we are."

Sinan adds: "There is no doubt in my mind that there are people in New Zealand, who have come here as refugees, who have been sent by the [Iraqi] Government. There is some kind of connection.

"I'm not frightened, I've been through two wars. But I'm frightened for my own kids, for my parents and relatives in Baghdad, they will harm them, harm them so badly."

For both families, the path to New Zealand had similar beginnings. They handed over a lot of money to pay their way out of Iraq, securing holiday visas for nearby Jordan. They kept it quiet that they had no intention of returning and left behind homes, vehicles, valuables and personal items. To take something that did not look like a holiday necessity would have aroused suspicion.

They will never go back to Iraq to live.

The couples have six children between them and are proud of their New Zealand citizenship.

"Here everything is peaceful and very nice," Muna says. "People like us and we like them. We have made friends. We are doing well in this society."

Sinan says his children are growing up, going to school and university. "I don't think they would suit the society there now. Their future is here. Why should we disturb their life? They are Kiwis now."

They are sick with worry about how their relatives in Iraq will cope in the event of war. Most of them, including a nephew who is just 16, will probably be called upon to fight in the national army, and there is virtually no chance of refusing.

Muna says her cousin was killed for leaving the army for one day to visit his mother in hospital.

Sinan says he met an officer who had to escape from hospital soon after being treated for a shoulder injury, because army intelligence officers were coming to single out soldiers who had been hit in the back. An injury in the back meant someone must have been running from the enemy.

They try to maintain telephone contact with their families in Iraq. They say it is frustrating, however, not knowing what is really going on, because Iraqis would not dare take a risk and tell the truth over the phone.

"They say, 'Oh, don't worry about us, we are used to it'.

"They don't have to be used to it, no human being has to be used to that.

"You know, we are happy and we feel guilty, because we are living and they are not. We feel guilty because we are eating good food and they are not.

"You get so distressed, not knowing what's going to happen. It's the unknown."

Sinan: "We want this nightmare regime to go ... we want the people to live freely, to be like any other nation, but what price should they pay with this monster?

"He will stop at nothing, he will blow up the oil wells and make a catastrophe with pollution. He will kill the people and say the Americans did it. He's done that before."

They believe military action is the only way to remove Saddam, and that diplomatic efforts are only prolonging the suffering.

"When this man came to power he marched his army to Iran," says Sinan. "In eight years we lost one million young men and the infrastructure collapsed. We also collapsed financially, and then he attacked Kuwait.

"I mean, we can't understand this. Iraqi people are very peaceful, very humanitarian, very friendly. They turn to monsters. The people are turned into monsters, killers and thugs."

He is critical of the anti-war protests in New Zealand and around the world.

"I would like to ask them, what are you on about? What are you marching for? No war? Keep Saddam Hussein in power? Do you know what he is doing to the Iraqi people? It is not enough to say no war."

The four have no doubts that Iraq has the capability of producing weapons of mass destruction, and they say their biggest fear is that they will be used against the Iraqi people.

Their elderly parents pleaded with them to take their children and leave Iraq, they say. Other family members stayed behind to look after those who needed help. Then it became impossible to get out when neighbouring countries closed their borders.

Sami wonders whether telecommunications companies here would help local Iraqis to get in touch with loved ones at home.

"It would be to say goodbye, because we don't how many will be alive after the war."

Herald Feature: Iraq

Iraq links and resources