University of Iowa

Baghdad in the mist

December 11th, 2014

By KC McGinnis, The Daily Iowan

Yasir Mohsin
Yasir Mohsin is a UI graduate student from Iraq.

Yasir Mohsin is sitting up in bed. East light enters through the narrow window of his basement apartment across from Kinnick Stadium, where 70,000 fans gathered last weekend for the Iowa/Iowa State football game. On game days, Yasir (pronounced YAH-ser) wakes before dawn to the sound of rumbling generators and the smells of pizza and gasoline. Today, he gets to sleep in. He scrolls through his phone, checking in on news and messages from family.

Today is a holy day, one Yasir grew up observing at his home, in Baghdad, and he will refrain from food, drink, and cigarettes until sundown. He has class in 30 minutes. He glances at his phone once more, gets out of bed, and heads upstairs for a shower.

The day of fasting reminds Yasir of his first week in Iowa City, where he began earning a master's in electrical engineering as a Fulbright Scholar in 2011. It was during Ramadan, and he couldn't find halal food to break his fast. For a week, he broke it with ramen and fruit from Walmart. He didn't know about the Iowa City Mosque or its free evening Iftar meals. He didn't even know if there were any other Iraqis on campus.

Three years later, Yasir is fully integrated into the University of Iowa's substantial Iraqi community, 23 graduate and post-doctorate scholars in fields from geology to dentistry, along with their families. Some have made families here; most are sponsored by an Iraqi government initiative that pays for students' educations under the strict terms that they return to Iraq upon completion of their degrees. The students started arriving in 2011, as U.S. troops marked their official exit from Iraq, under improved security conditions, on Dec. 21, 2011. Most Iraqis anticipated returning with their degrees to a safer, more peaceful country.

Read the full story at The Daily Iowan