The Complicated Case Of Shakir Hamoodi
A local grocery store owner’s “crime of compassion” has earned him a three-year sentence in federal prison. Now Shakir Hamoodi’s fate rests in the hands of President Obama.
Monday, Sept. 18, 2006
Lamees Abdul-Kafi realized she forgot her cell phone en route to her 9 a.m. class at the University of Missouri. Apologizing to her brother, Owais, who was also in the car, Lamees turned the vehicle around and headed back to their house in The Pines, a quiet, upscale neighborhood off Nifong Boulevard in south Columbia.
The pair was home less than five minutes before they heard a knock on the door. Owais answered and was greeted by a familiar face — the man standing on the doorstep of 2701 Woodberry Court was an FBI agent he’d met three days earlier at the Columbia Islamic Center. More than 30 additional law enforcement agents were standing on the lawn behind him, including representatives from the Columbia Police Department, the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force. They were armed, Owais remembers; some had their guns drawn.
“I have a warrant to search this house,” the agent told Owais.
Confused, scared and angry, the 17-year-old MU freshman shut the door and called his father. Shakir Hamoodi was in Detroit, where he often traveled for his work with the charity Life for Relief and Development — this particular trip was to firm up fundraising plans during the 2006 Muslim holy month of Ramadan, set to begin the next weekend.
If the FBI had a warrant, Hamoodi told his son, he had to let them into the house.
Law enforcement officers instructed Owais and Lamees to leave their home, but not before the agents searched Owais’ backpack, confiscating flash drives and a TI-83 calculator.
Hamoodi flew immediately to St. Louis, drove to Columbia and met his wife, Lamya Najem, at their store, World Harvest International and Gourmet Foods. He arrived at his house roughly eight hours after the raid started, and the FBI was still there. Agents had seized — among other things — computers, IDs, passports, letters from family in Iraq and, according to Hamoodi, a 1,000-year-old Quran. Hamoodi watched as his family’s identity was hauled away in three full SUVs.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Nearly six years later, Shakir Hamoodi stood before U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey in a Jefferson City courtroom as she sentenced him for his role in a conspiracy to violate the International Economic Emergency Powers Act. The 2006 FBI raid and subsequent investigation culminated in a 2009 guilty plea from Hamoodi. In her sentencing judgment, Laughrey ordered the 60-year-old grocery store owner to federal prison for three years, followed by two years’ probation. His incarceration begins on Aug. 28.
Hamoodi ran afoul of a couple of Gulf War-era executive orders, an act of Congress and Treasury Department regulations. He now faces the consequences for what he calls “a crime of compassion.” Between 1994 and 2003, Hamoodi sent $271,000 to Iraq, despite sanctions that forbade sending anything, directly or indirectly, into the Middle Eastern country.
The sanctions stemmed from Iraq President Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990. The military action provoked U.S. President George H.W. Bush to issue Executive Order 12,722, which specifically prohibited the export and re-export of funds, goods and services to Iraq. Four days after the invasion, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 661, imposing economic sanctions on Iraq. Bush followed up the United Nations action by issuing Executive Order 12,724, which prohibited the sending of funds or other financial or economic resources by any U.S. person to any person in Iraq, directly or indirectly.
The president’s executive orders were authorized under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977. “The policies and actions of the government of Iraq constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States,” Bush declared.
In November 1990, Congress passed the Iraq Sanctions Act, authorizing the president to continue the sanctions invoked by the executive orders. The act also required that charitable donations to Iraq abide by another U.N. resolution that forbade such funds from being diverted to Iraqi military use. On Jan. 18, 1991, Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady issued a regulation forbidding any U.S. person from committing or transferring — directly or indirectly — funds or other financial or economic resources to the government of Iraq or any person in Iraq. Exceptions would require a license from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control, granted on a case-by-case basis to permit donated food exports to relieve human suffering.
The sanctions, a near-total embargo that prohibited all trade and financial resources from entering Iraq except for medicine and foodstuffs “in humanitarian circumstances,” remained in effect from August 1990 until April 2003, after Hussein was forced from power.
Hamoodi claims he didn’t know about the executive orders until after the 2006 raid on his home. “The president almost every day signs an executive order,” he says. “How could I, a tiny, busy human being in Columbia, Mo., know what that executive order is?”
Hamoodi may proclaim ignorance of Bush’s specific 1990 executive orders, but it’s clear he understood the sanctions and that his actions were illegal. He’s been quite vocal about his naïveté since his May 16 sentencing, but according to the plea agreement he entered on Dec. 22, 2009, Hamoodi “was aware that the Iraqi sanctions existed, and that they prohibited the sending of funds into Iraq for any purpose.” His guilty plea goes on to say, “Shakir Hamoodi understood that the sanctions were so far-reaching that they forbade the sending of funds to any citizens of Iraq. Indeed, Shakir Hamoodi and other persons discussed via faxes and other media the wide reach of the Iraqi sanctions, and how the sanctions limited the flow of funds and charitable items into Iraq during the sanctions period.”
Hamoodi maintains that he was simply trying to help his ailing family, including his blind mother, his father and his 10 siblings. “I wish somebody had told me, ‘You made a mistake,’ ” he said last month, despite his 2009 confession to court officials that he was aware his actions were illegal. “I wish somebody had told me, ‘Hey, you’re in violation of an executive order’ … The whole ordeal could have been resolved without any investigation.”
It wasn’t quite that simple, says Garrett M. Heenan, a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice who argued the government’s case against Hamoodi in federal court.
“It’s easy to say it’s all in the rearview mirror, the sanctions have expired,” Heenan says. “But it is still a serious crime, and the larger United States government interests in having sanctions and, moreover, having people in the United States — citizens — abide by the requirements of [the] Treasury [Department] and not violate those sanctions is an important thing that the United States would seek to promote.”
Watch our exclusive video -- Shakir Hamoodi: In His Own Words
A Life Of Education
Hamoodi was born in Anah, Iraq, a small kidney-shaped town on the south bank of the Euphrates River about 40 miles from the Syrian border. Education was important to his family; his two brothers work as an engineer and a surgeon, six of his eight sisters are teachers.
Hamoodi, a strong student at the University of Baghdad, earned scholarships that took him to Scotland to research thermal hydraulics and then to France, where he worked as an engineer. In 1985, funded by a scholarship from the Iraqi government, he enrolled at the University of Missouri to earn his doctorate in nuclear engineering.
Like any investment, Hamoodi’s scholarship was offered with the expectation of a return — specifically, that Hamoodi would return physically to Iraq with expertise in nuclear engineering. The alternative was a financial agreement, bound by contract and with his brother Saleh, his sister Hasna and his parents as guarantors. If Hamoodi did not return to Iraq, his family would be left to repay the debt — tens of thousands of Iraqi dinar. Normally, that amount might be impossible to settle, but by the time Hamoodi completed his Ph.D. in 1992, sanctions had forced the value of the Iraqi dinar so low that Hamoodi was able to pay off his debt for what he says were a few American dollars, although he says he cannot recall the exact amount of the debt. Freed of his obligation to his native country, Hamoodi elected to stay in the United States.
Returning to Iraq meant going home to a war-torn country with no economy, Hamoodi says. Staying in the United States meant safety for his immediate family, the opportunity to give financial help to his relatives in Iraq, and the freedom to practice his religion and speak out on political issues. He became a U.S. citizen in 2002.
Hamoodi lived comfortably in Columbia on the modest salary he received as a nontenured research assistant professor of nuclear engineering at MU. Between 1993 and 1996, his annual salary grew from $35,000 to $36,999, according to the Missouri Official Manual. In the 1997-1998 fiscal year, he made $27,721.
Back home in Iraq, Hamoodi says, life was anything but comfortable. His relatives in Iraq, he says, were suffering. Two of his sisters dropped out of college because they could not afford tuition. According to his mother, people were starving. Even his family, which grew its own food, was being robbed of its produce.
“Around 1992,” Hamoodi recalls, he spoke to his youngest brother, Sabah, an army engineer Hamoodi says made the equivalent of only $2 per month. Sabah told him his wife had suffered a miscarriage because the couple couldn’t afford $10 for antibiotics.
That was the last straw. “I was in communication with them,” Hamoodi says. “When I heard their dire need, I said, ‘How could I help?’ ” Hamoodi says he decided to live humbly and set aside money for his relatives abroad. He squeezed his family into a two-bedroom house on North William Street that rented for $420 per month. His children shared bunk beds in the tiny bungalow.
A Nine-Year Conspiracy
There was no way to send money directly to Iraq, this much Hamoodi knew. A friend of his tried twice to send money directly, he says, and twice the money was stolen after it crossed the border from Jordan into Iraq. So, the plea agreement states, “beginning no later than 1994, Shakir Hamoodi began to plan methods for circumventing the Iraqi sanctions in order to get funds into Iraq for his own family. At no time did Shakir Hamoodi apply to the United States Department of the Treasury for a license to send money, goods, food, medicine or any other item into Iraq, directly or indirectly.”
Instead, Hamoodi strategized with his cousin Abu Reyad, who worked as a part-time bookkeeper for a wholesale produce company in Baghdad that bought commodities from Jordan, usually foodstuffs such as sugar or rice. Reyad suggested Hamoodi wire money to a corporate bank account in Amman, Jordan, to which the bookkeeper had access.
“Thereafter, Abu Reyad would withdraw the same amount of funds from an Iraq-based bank account held by the same company,” explains the plea agreement. “Abu Reyad and Shakir Hamoodi further agreed that Abu Reyad would distribute the funds to the intended recipients in Iraq on an as-needed basis to prevent the Iraqi recipients from having too much cash at one time.” The process occurred much like an algebra equation, month after month.
“[The investigators of my case] thought this was genius,” Hamoodi says. “I didn’t think it was any genius; it’s something people have been doing for thousands of years.”
Indeed, federal investigators have learned a great deal since 2001 about the economic aspects of life in America’s Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian communities and their connection to foreign countries. The February 2007 issue of FBI Bulletin examines the practice of hawala, part of “the informal value transfer system used by members of an ethnic community to send money around the world.” Author James Casey calls hawala “an ancient system that actually predates banking,” adding that “it works in an analogous manner to a more formal system of ‘wiring’ money. With hawala, however, either a transfer of funds to a bank or a number of less formal settling transactions may occur.” The International Monetary Fund/World Bank estimates the global scope of hawala and other informal value transfer system transactions at tens of billions of dollars annually, Casey writes.
In 1990s Iraq, inflation was so high and the value of the Iraqi dinar was so low that Hamoodi says a few dollars each month was all it took to support his 10 siblings and two parents. “I made sure all my immediate family were at least able to get their food on the table, their education, their health, with very minimal costs to a standard of living here in America,” he says.
As the sanctions wore on, other Columbians with ties to Iraq became aware of the troubles their relatives were having abroad, and Hamoodi began sending money on behalf of 14 other Iraqi families in Columbia. He bought a fax machine in 1994 to facilitate the relay of information to Reyad (at that time, fax machines were a luxury, he says with a laugh). He’d wire money to the account in Jordan and fax his cousin instructions for each family. Typically, Hamoodi sent $30 to his parents, $30 to Sabah’s family and $20 to each of his other family members. On average, he says he gave about $400 per month. Reyad sent back faxes confirming the instructions were followed.
During the post-raid investigation, Hamoodi was asked to sign each fax to verify it was his. He’d also saved correspondence from his family in Iraq. “When the government searched my house, they found letters from me to my cousin in Iraq accounting for every dollar I sent — every dollar — and I mean it, there was no dollar that went to Iraq government,” Hamoodi says.
It didn’t matter whether the money went to the government or to his relatives, the FBI maintained; Hamoodi had still broken the law, and investigators wanted to know why he’d saved such incriminating evidence.
“There are two reasons,” Hamoodi says. “No. 1, because I was working in the open, and I was not aware I was doing something illegal; and No. 2, I wanted those pieces of paper for my children. I wanted my children to be proud at least that their father did something good for their cousins.”
By 1999, Hamoodi had found a way to increase the amount of money going to his family members in Iraq. According to the plea agreement, he discovered his Iraqi relatives were eligible to receive assistance from Life for Relief and Development, so he began pooling the money he was gathering in Columbia with funds the Detroit-based charity was sending to Iraq. Even though the organization had never received a license to send funds, Khalil Jassemm, the president of Life for Relief and Development, assured Hamoodi that he had a reliable method of getting money into Iraq despite the sanctions.
“Beginning in at least 1998 and continuing until April 2003, Shakir Hamoodi regularly sent money to Life [for Relief and Development] to be combined with the funds Life was sending into Iraq and with the intent that such funds actually be received by persons inside Iraq,” the plea agreement states. Hamoodi corresponded with Reyad to ensure that the funds sent through the charity had reached their intended recipients.
At the same time, Hamoodi, who left the university’s employ in 1998, was subsidizing his own income. According to the plea agreement, Hamoodi worked as a fundraiser for Life for Relief and Development and paid himself an undisclosed income from the funds he raised.
“Shakir Hamoodi did not keep written records of the money he paid to himself for his services to Life,” the plea agreement states. “In or about 1998, Shakir Hamoodi and Khalil Jassemm discussed the fact that Shakir Hamoodi would use some of the donations for his household and personal expenses, but they never placed this agreement in writing until after 2004. Neither did Shakir Hamoodi report this income to the Internal Revenue Service, the state of Missouri, or any agency from whom he and his family received assistance, such as food stamps, Section 8 housing, or Medicaid.”
Unbeknown to Hamoodi, the FBI raided five Detroit-area offices of Life for Relief and Development on Sept. 18, 2006, the same day his Columbia home was searched. The organization’s public relations official, Muthana Al-Hanooti, pleaded guilty to violating the Iraq sanctions and was sentenced in 2011 to a year and a day in prison.
Hamoodi says he was never secretive about helping his family. Recognized as a peace activist in Columbia, he worked to make people aware of the situation abroad. Before and after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, Hamoodi spoke out on behalf of Muslims, and after U.S. forces invaded Iraq in 2003 he spoke out against the war. At a panel on the MU campus in October 2001, Hamoodi suggested the United States take the higher ground and spend money on improving relations with the Muslim world by building schools and sending aid rather than going to war.
Hamoodi spoke out against the sanctions, too. He says the American media didn’t represent the situation accurately, and it wasn’t until European media and medical aid groups went into Iraq in the mid-’90s that the world learned how dire the situation was. UNICEF reported 500,000 children died during the 13 years of the sanctions, and the mortality rate for children 5 and younger was twice as high in 1999, nine years into the sanctions, as it was in pre-sanctions 1989.
“Iraqi children were as innocent as any other children in the world,” Hamoodi says. “They shouldn’t have been subjected to this.”
He says Iraq was targeted because Saddam Hussein was an obnoxious, overly aggressive leader with a big mouth.
In the end, Hamoodi’s talkative nature led to his own downfall, he says, similar to Hussein’s. “I was vocal about it,” he says. “I was telling people about it, how the situation was. The media was not really informing the people here in America about anything that was going on, so I was telling the situation of how I was helping my family.” Hamoodi’s tendency to speak out helped him gain a network of friends who supported Iraqis, but he suspects this is also how he eventually got caught.
Ellen and Charlie Atkins have known Hamoodi and his family for about 15 years. The couple is involved with Veterans for Peace, through which they sent about $100,000 — via Life for Relief and Development — into Iraq during the sanctions. Many people sent money to Iraq, Ellen says. She wonders why Hamoodi is the one being punished.
“Why Shakir?” she asks. “Why an Iraqi?”
Marvin Rogers, former political science professor at MU and a long-time friend of Hamoodi offers an answer: Many Iraqis were breaking the sanctions, he says, but Shakir was well-known enough in the community to send a message.
“It’s like a fraternity,” Rogers says. “You do something, we want to make sure all the frat boys in town know you’re going to get it real bad …”
Once the sanctions were lifted in 2003, Hamoodi stopped sending money to Iraq. He says the Iraqi government began raising salaries, starting with teachers. His sisters were among the first to get the income boost. Once his family in Iraq was able to support itself, Hamoodi became concerned with supporting his wife and five children in Columbia.
“When my family back home told me they were OK, I said this is the time to focus on my family,” he recalls. “I’m 60 and have been working extremely hard since I was in high school; only when my kids grew up and they started high school, that became a very pressing priority for me.”
He opened World Harvest International and Gourmet Foods late in 2003 with two partners — Havam Jaber and Mohmad Hazim — who also owned a World Harvest store in Champaign, Ill. He moved his family from a rental house on Green Meadows Road to the five-bedroom home on Woodberry Court in 2004. Hamoodi is vague about his source of funds to buy the house in The Pines; he says he had help from the Islamic community. The home's current appraisal value is $394,000, according to the Boone County Assessor’s Office.
Despite their new home and new neighborhood, Hamoodi’s children faced discrimination and bullying in school. The Woodberry Court house was vandalized almost every other week for a summer, Owais remembers. Hamoodi filed police reports on three separate occasions regarding the graffiti and even talked to an FBI agent about considering it a possible hate crime.
On Sept. 15, 2006 — just days after the fifth anniversary of 9/11 — an event at the Columbia Islamic Center brought the Islamic community and law enforcement together; FBI agents spoke to the public to calm fears and ease tensions that had escalated since the 9/11 attacks. Two of those FBI agents would raid Hamoodi’s house the following Monday.
The Woodberry Court raid prompted a sealed government investigation into Hamoodi’s financial behavior. Although Hamoodi freely admitted he’d aided his family in Iraq, he says he was optimistic that he wouldn’t receive a prison sentence. He’d followed similar court cases that were tried by the same judge in the same court; five individuals who had sent money through the Islamic American Relief Agency received varying sentences.
The IARA was a charity based in Columbia that illegally sent money into Iraq and was identified by the Department of the Treasury as a specially designated global terrorist organization. In October 2004, FBI agents raided IARA’s Cherry Street offices, its storage units and the agency director’s home, seizing assets used in an investigation of the organization. Columbia resident Ahmad Mustafa, who’d sent one transaction of $1,000 to Iraq and was allegedly unaware the IARA wasn’t properly licensed to send money to Iraq, received six months’ probation when he pleaded guilty in 2009. IARA Executive Director Mubarak Hamed, a Columbia resident, sent more than $1 million to Iraq and received nearly five years in federal prison in Texarkana, Texas, when he pleaded guilty in 2010.
Hamoodi, confident that his crime didn’t compare in scope to Hamed’s, pleaded guilty in hopes that by cooperating and helping with the investigation he would get probation.
“We’re not excusing or justifying the conduct,” says James Hobbs, Hamoodi’s attorney. “We know that it’s serious; the felony is indeed serious.”
Judge Nanette Laughrey made the distinction that Hamoodi didn’t commit a one-time offense. In her words, he was the leader of a “nine-year conspiracy.” He sent money again and again into Iraq, she pointed out, and his delivery method through the company in Jordan was illegal, despite his alleged misunderstanding of the law. Hamoodi should have obtained a license to send goods into Iraq — not money, Laughrey maintained.
“[Sending money is] not permitted because there is no way for the government to know where the money actually ended up,” Laughrey said at Hamoodi’s May 16 sentencing hearing. “It’s like feathers being blown in the wind, and you can never keep track of where those dollars, in fact, went.”
Hobbs, a highly regarded attorney in Kansas City who specializes in white-collar criminal cases, argued at Hamoodi’s sentencing hearing that “there’s absolutely not a scintilla of evidence before the court that any of this money went to something other than an intended recipient.”
Neither is there evidence that the money stayed where Hamoodi says it went, prosecutors maintain.
“Frankly, we don’t know where the money went,” says Acting U.S. Attorney David M. Ketchmark. “That is not relevant to this case, which is about the defendant’s actions rather than his motives. Regardless of his motivation, Hamoodi violated federal sanctions and must be held accountable for his criminal actions.” Ketchmark also points out Hamoodi entered a plea agreement that allowed him to avoid possible wire fraud, mail fraud and tax fraud charges.
Laughrey sentenced Hamoodi to three years in federal prison with two years of probation, almost two years less than the maximum 57 months put forth in the guidelines of the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Laughrey, who lives in Columbia, refused to comment after her judgment, but at Hamoodi’s sentencing she said he earned the lesser sentence because of his cooperation and his involvement in the community.
“He obviously has a model family, a lovely family, lovely children … I am sure it is largely as a result of your leadership in the family,” she told him. “But I have also had to take into account what you did … you disagreed with the law, and you decided not to comply with the law. That does not show respect for the rule of law, which is the foundation of this country. And that was particularly of concern because you had a way to achieve humanitarian goals here. You could have gotten a license and sent in medicine, you could have gotten a license and sent in food, but you chose not to do that. The law did not permit you to send in money. Even with the license, it’s not permitted because there is no way for the government to know where the money actually ended up. Anybody can write a letter and send it and say all of the money went to buy medicine, all of the money went to buy food.”
Laughrey, however, did agree to recommend a minimum-security prison camp and to start Hamoodi’s sentence on Aug. 28, allowing him 10 days after this year’s conclusion of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month.
The Next Step
After Laughrey pronounced sentence, Hamoodi’s friends and supporters sat in stunned silence. Rogers stood up.
“This family is going to need our help for five years,” he remembers saying to the 30 people present. “Not three years, five. And we need to get organized.”
The Monday after the sentencing, Hamoodi’s supporters held a press conference, and the crowd of 30 grew to more than 100.
The next step, Hamoodi’s friends decided, is an attempt to commute Hamoodi’s sentence, an avenue that would require the help of President Barack Obama. A commutation can reduce a sentence but will not change a conviction. Submitting a petition for commutation requires a formal written petition addressed to the president; it does not require a lawyer or a recommendation from a public official. Still, in an election year, Hamoodi’s hopes for commutation could hinge on a major political favor, should anyone with political influence be willing to go to bat for him. The most likely prospect, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Columbia native and potential channel to Obama, has declined to comment.
Commuting the sentence is Hamoodi’s only remedy, says Craig Van Matre, an attorney in Columbia and Hamoodi supporter. The only way to get Obama’s attention, Van Matre says, is to put together the most compelling petition possible.
“He helped his blind mother and a sister-in-law who lost a baby. No money went to terrorism or Saddam Hussein,” Van Matre says. “Anybody would have done it.”
By mid-July, the petition to commute Hamoodi’s sentence had nearly 3,000 signatures. Obama, however, has commuted a sentence only once in his presidential term, for a cancer-stricken Illinois woman who had sold crack cocaine to support three children.
If the petition is not successful, Hamoodi’s supporters face additional challenges, such as ensuring his children have the opportunity and finances to continue their education after their father goes to prison. Supporters also plan to ensure the family’s grocery store thrives.
Hamoodi is most concerned that his youngest son, 14-year-old Abdulrahman, gets support while his father is in prison. “I always hear my father saying that his top priority is my youngest brother, Abdulrahman,” Lamees said at Hamoodi’s sentencing hearing on May 16. “My father has already planted four seeds for good citizens and has only one left to go.”
Hamoodi becomes emotional when talking about his son; his calm, level voice, which usually carries the rhythm of a practiced public speaker, turns quiet.
“I worry that if this young one falls into an unhealthy lifestyle, the whole community will suffer,” he says. “Then what will be the benefit of me being away from them?”
If you plant a flower, you grow a flower, Hamoodi says. As he prepares to enter prison this month, he fears the uncertainty that the next three years will bring. Whether they yield a harvest of flowers or bitter fruit may depend on the seed Shakir Hamoodi has planted.
Aug. 27, 1985: Shakir Hamoodi arrives in the United States to study at the University of Missouri for a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering.
Aug. 2, 1990: Iraq invades Kuwait.
Aug. 6, 1990: The U.N. Security Council imposes sanctions on Iraq; President George H.W. Bush enacts U.S. sanctions in Iraq under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.
Jan. 17, 1991: Operation Desert Storm begins; U.S. forces invade Iraq with a U.N. coalition of 34 countries.
Feb. 28, 1991: Operation Desert Storm ends, but the sanctions against Iraq continue.
1992: Hamoodi earns his Ph.D. and begins work as a research assistant professor at the University of Missouri.
1994: Hamoodi begins his “nine-year conspiracy” with families in Columbia to send money to relatives in Iraq.
1998: Hamoodi stops working for the university and begins paying himself via donations to Life for Relief and Development.
Sept. 11, 2001: World Trade Center attack
March 20, 2003: Operation Iraqi Freedom begins; the United States invades Iraq to search for weapons of mass destruction.
April 9, 2003: Saddam Hussein is removed from power in Iraq; he goes into hiding.
May 22, 2003: U.N. Security Council ends sanctions in Iraq. Hamoodi stops sending money to family in Iraq.
Dec. 13, 2003: Saddam Hussein is captured.
December 2003: Hamoodi opens World Harvest International and Gourmet Foods in Columbia.
Sept. 18, 2006: The FBI raids Hamoodi’s house at 2701 Woodberry Court.
Dec. 30, 2006: Saddam Hussein is executed in Iraq.
Dec. 22, 2009: Hamoodi pleads guilty to charges that he violated the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.
May 16, 2012: Hamoodi is sentenced to 36 months in prison, followed by two years’
Aug. 28, 2012: Hamoodi is scheduled to report to prison.
Boom & Bust
World Harvest International and Gourmet Foods at 3700 Monterey Drive has been the focal point of Shakir Hamoodi’s family since 2004 — a meeting place at the end of the day after work or school. The small table in the back, behind shelves of imported olive oil and honey, and surrounded by stacks of cardboard boxes containing baklava, continues to be a meeting space to talk about business, politics or personal lives.
However, business isn’t what it used to be. Prior to the raid in 2006, Hamoodi says World Harvest typically saw between 75 and 80 customers per day. Business boomed for about two weeks after the raid but then slumped and hasn’t rebounded since. An average of about 25 customers per day is normal now.
As Hamoodi stood outside the courthouse on May 16, he told his family he would have to close. By closing the family business, he said, he would spare his children the burden of running the shop. Hamoodi’s family and group of community supporters, however, rejected that line of thought and convinced him to keep the store open.
Hamoodi gave away about five cases of his favorite snack, baklava fingers from Shatila Bakery in Detroit, to supporters who came by the store in the week after his sentencing. He says his family’s financial survival now depends on customers continuing to shop at World Harvest.
“By helping the store,” Hamoodi says, “the community in general will help the family get by and wait for their dad to come back.”
“Iraq wants friendship, but does the U.S. government?” Saddam Hussein sent this message to the U.S. ambassador to Iraq on July 25, 1990, one week before Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, according to a diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks on Jan. 1, 2011. Iraq was seriously in debt, and Hussein’s government alleged oil drillers from Kuwait were slant drilling to suck oil from behind Iraqi borders.
The U.S. response was one of ambivalence. “We took no position on these Arab affairs,” said April Glaspie, then U.S. ambassador to Iraq.
Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990, and the U.N. Security Council responded immediately with U.N. Resolution 660, which demanded Iraq end the invasion of Kuwait. On Aug. 6, 1990, the U.N. enacted a full embargo on trade with Iraq. The U.S. imposed sanctions on Iraq to convince Saddam Hussein to withdraw, or to turn the Iraqi people against him. Without open trade, the economy floundered. About 95 percent of the government’s money came from the oil trade, and without that, Iraq’s money dried up regardless of how freely the oil flowed.
The value of the Iraqi dinar plummeted and Iraq’s economy, which relied almost entirely on oil trade, dissolved. Since the sanctions, Iraq went from a country heavily in debt but with almost no taxes to one of the most heavily taxed countries in the world. According to the CIA World Fact Book, the exchange rate on the Iraqi dinar is now 1,176 dinar per dollar (compared to 0.3 dinar per dollar in 1990).
The International Emergency Economic Powers Act authorized the president to declare it illegal to trade with or aid Iraq or to send any money or goods, directly or indirectly into Iraq. Shakir Hamoodi sent money indirectly.