PHOENIX - At least a dozen Iraqi exiles living in the Phoenix area have answered the American military's call for volunteers.
They live comfortably in the United States now, but they remember living under Saddam Hussein's persecution and say they want to assist the United States.
As many as 3,000 Iraqi exiles nationally will be trained at a military base in Hungary to work as mediators, translators and guides during a possible war and its aftermath, according to a Defense Department official.
"I told my wife, 'If something like this happens, I'm going to be the first one to sign up and help America,' " said Biton Biton, 38, an Iraqi exile in Glendale. "We are all happy about it. This is the happiest moment because for us it means the beginning of the end."
Biton and five other Iraqi exiles told The Arizona Republic they were excited about the prospect of helping overthrow Saddam, even though it would mean leaving behind their families and jobs.
"If we are going to die or not, we don't care," said Iraqi exile Paul Odisho, 36, of Glendale, who owns a swimming-pool and repair business. "We are living a beautiful life in America. We want the same freedom for the people of Iraq."
Odisho and the other Iraqi exiles are Christian Assyrians, a minority group within Iraq, a predominantly Arab nation. All said they are naturalized U.S. citizens.
An estimated 8,000 to 10,000 Assyrian Americans live in the Phoenix area, home to the nation's fastest-growing Assyrian population.
The Assyrian Democratic Movement is one of six major Iraqi opposition groups. Sam Darmo, the group's Phoenix representative, said he knows of a dozen Assyrians from the Phoenix area who have volunteered to help the military.
"There are volunteers from Phoenix who have left already and are getting training somewhere. It's undisclosed," he said.