Local chamber of commerce works to help refugees flee besieged areas in Iraq

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With the crisis in Iraq escalating, Ben Kalasho, president of the San Diego East County Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce, is doing his part in helping refugees flee embattled areas into safer ones. CACC is working with Iraqi officials to pledge for the safety of refugees. He said the largest mass evacuation of Iraq’s history is currently happening.
“It’s as if the population of San Diego fleeing at once,” said Kalasho. “But wait, you might get shot in the head as you run.”

With the crisis in Iraq escalating, Ben Kalasho, president of the San Diego East County Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce, is doing his part in helping refugees flee embattled areas into safer ones. CACC is working with Iraqi officials to pledge for the safety of refugees. He said the largest mass evacuation of Iraq’s history is currently happening.
“It’s as if the population of San Diego fleeing at once,” said Kalasho. “But wait, you might get shot in the head as you run.”
Kalasho said it is sometimes as simple as merely telling the telling officials in Kurdistan a certain amount of refugees are headed their way along with their names.
“Mainly, our efforts have been concentrated on talking to the Kurdistan regional government, who is a member of our chamber,” he said. “It’s mainly done over Skype, as the telephones don’t really work most of the time.”
Kalasho, a first generation Iraqi immigrant, turned down a position in the Kurdish government in 2006.
He along with the CACC believes moderate Muslims are the key to resolving the crisis. Kalasho said a lack of a nationalistic identity contributes to the crisis.
“They won’t want to die for being Iraqi but, they will die for their beliefs,” he said. “Moderate Muslims can make the change. They are the majority. They can make the change.”
Kalasho said the resistance against splitting Iraq into three autonomous states is pointless. Too many ethnic, religious and cultural groups do not share a nationalistic identity of simply being Iraqi, he said.
“To be Chaldean, to be Syriac, to be Assyrian is one in the same,” he said. “Yet we can’t even agree on that. You take that and you put it into a country, stir the pot by putting in Kurds into the mix and Arabs, Sunni and Shiite, which in themselves have factions of Islam in them, you mix all that in there and you end up with a real chaotic place. 
Michael Albayati, board member of the CACC, said Iraq was not properly prepared for a democracy, as it had been 40 years since they last had one.
“Imagine if you were in prison for thirty years and you were released,” said Albayati. “You wouldn’t know what you are going to do. You are just going to freak out.”
He said the people in the government are not skilled as politicians, which has caused a weak government. Albayati said this in turn caused it to be targeted by outside forces waging sectarian violence at first only focusing on targeting Shiite but has now shifted gears into toppling the government in place. 
David William Lazar, the chair of the American Mesopotamian Association, said the Kurdistan Regional Government is not helping with a unified Iraq. 
Lazar said the only solution to this crisis is if the Iraqi people form a non-sectarian government with non-sectarian people.
“Nothing is going to be solved with the power of the machine gun,” he said. “Everybody needs each other in a united Iraq.”

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