By Brian Williams Anchor & “Nightly News” managing editor
NBC News
updated 1/28/2005 7:40:47 PM ET 2005-01-29T00:40:47

It has been said you can't go home again. The Naama family is trying to prove otherwise — though their journey home has not been an easy one.

Ten years and 12,000 miles later, just days before Iraq's first competitive election, Abbas Naama and his daughter Esra are learning that arriving home in Iraq may have been the easy part.

Iraq had always been home to the Naama family. But it wasn't always liveable. In fact, in 1991, the father, Abbas, was in the resistance, against Saddam. It was a dangerous move back then.

At the height of Saddam's power it became clear to the family that their home was no longer safe. They couldn't stay here in Iraq. And so, like many threatened by Saddam's reign, they fled. Daughter Esra was only 11 years old.

"We saw some people being taken away and slaughtered," recalls Esra. "I remember seeing two guys hung in a palm tree."

When NBC News first met up with the Naama family, they were living their new life — far from home, safe in San Diego. Iraq seemed gone, forever.

"It gave us a new life, a new beginning," says Esra. "America has fulfilled our dreams."

Then, unimaginably, Baghdad fell in April 2003. When it was clear that Saddam was no longer in power, when beloved icons of his — like his Baath party headquarters — were in ruins, that was the family's cue that it was safe to come home again.

We joined them for their emotional journey home, and saw that things would not be so simple.

"I feel a part of me wants to stay here and lend a hand to the people of my country," Esra told us. "But I still have my job and my life. I have to go back."

Now, the Naamas have become a portrait of a changing Iraq. The story lacks a tidy ending. Esra has traveled back and forth, unable to turn her back on an unsettled and violent homeland. But unwilling to settle here. Her brother, Mahmoud, returned to California to go to college, and on Friday, he actually voted in Iraq's election.

"We have to fight for what we want," he says.

Remarkably, one of the candidates he voted for was his own mother, Sabria. She's trying democracy on first hand, running for Parliament. The family fears for her safety. Like many here, she's campaigning quietly.

"It's not fair that we might lose my mom in this whole transition to democracy in Iraq," says Esra.

Meanwhile, their old house, destroyed years ago as punishment for leaving Saddam's Iraq, remains in ruins — though the family patriarch remains hopeful.

"We will win freedom," says Abbas Naama. "We will win democracy in Iraq."

"This is our country," echoes his daughter. "These are our people. We owe it to them."

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