Jun 25, 2014 8:51 PM by Associated Press
PHOENIX (AP) - Dozens of Iraqi-Americans gathered in downtown Phoenix on Wednesday to protest an insurgent group's occupation of territory in their homeland.
Nearly 100 demonstrators came from nearby mosques and the area's Assyrian Christian community to take a stand against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as ISIL, and its seizure of several cities in Iraq.
They chanted "No Shiite, no Sunni, only, only Iraqi," in Arabic, making the point that the violence gripping the country is a problem for all of Iraq.
"I'm actually a Christian but I was invited to the meeting, which took place in a mosque," said Steven Nabil Ishaq, one of the protest's organizers. "When Iraq calls, when it's a question of its existence, we put all differences on the side. We put any sort of ideas on the side, politically or geographically. We unite together to defeat terrorism."
ISIL, which is made up of Sunni extremists, has targeted Iraqi Shiites and Christians in its recent attacks. However, the protesters say this is a problem for the international community.
The Phoenix area is home to a sizable population of Iraqi refugees who fled turmoil in their homeland during the reign of Saddam Hussein and in the aftermath of his defeat. They are accustomed to conflict back home, but some of the protesters say the current situation could threaten Iraq's existence.
"It's more serious," said Rose Hattab, one of the protesters. "There may no longer be an Iraq if we don't do something to help."
Many of the protesters still have family in Iraq and fear for their safety. Some have received threats from extremists because of their political activities.
"Everybody that's here is worried about their family in danger," protester Belal Luaibi said. "But, for the most part, we're just worried that our country might turn over to terrorism."
The protesters want to do their part to help their homeland, despite the long distance.
"It's my country, it's where my family is, where my ancestors are, so I feel like I should do something even though I'm over here on the other side of the world," Hattab said. "To show the people over there in Iraq, as well as my family, that we are here to support you, and we are with you."