Sometimes he hears nothing, no sound at all. Sometimes there is ringing but nobody answers, although he knows there must be somebody home. Unless something terrible has happened.
So Kato Saadlla keeps punching the numbers on his phone, trying to reach his aunts and uncles and cousins in Baghdad.
"After many times trying, I don't know what's going on," says Saadlla, 37, an Iraqi exile now living in Springfield. "We're very worried. We don't know what the regime is going to do to the people."
Until a few days ago, the phones were working in most of Iraq, and Saadlla and other exiles could talk to relatives back home.
"We called after each bombing," he says. "If they answered, we knew they were okay."
He reached an aunt in Baghdad on Monday. She was fine, although her voice sounded weary. She still had electricity and water, but she no longer felt safe leaving the house.
"We're not going out anymore," she told him.
That was the last time Saadlla, who is the Washington spokesman for an anti-Hussein exile group called the Iraqi National Front, managed to reach any of his relatives in Iraq.
"It's the same thing with my friends," he says. "They are trying very hard, but they can't get through. They are all worried about their families."
"It just keeps ringing and ringing and nobody picks up," says Mohammed Alaskari, 43, an Iraqi exile who runs a silk-screening business in Tampa. "The numbers I'm calling -- I know somebody is in the home all the time, but right now I don't get anything."
Every morning, he calls his mother, his sister and his two brothers, all of them living in Baghdad, but it's been nearly a week since he's been able to get through.
"I'm not just worried, I'm sick, to be honest with you," he says. "I'm trying to stay in control. I have my hope in God. Hopefully, God will protect them."
A few days ago, he says, he talked to a friend who managed to escape Baghdad and flee to Jordan, but his friend's news was not heartening.
"Saddam has his thugs on every street," Alaskari says. "They've been going into homes in the suburbs of Baghdad, dragging all the males 16 and older out [to fight the Americans]. If they refuse, they execute them in front of their family."
Now, Alaskari says, he's hoping for an uprising in Baghdad. "The only thing keeping them down is the fear," he says. "Everybody's got a weapon. Every man has at least a pistol. It's a question of fear. It's the dirty thugs who hold the country hostage."
Tuesday was the last time Waria Salhi Nameek managed to reach his relatives in Kirkuk. He learned that his cousins were sleeping in a cemetery.
"They go to sleep in the cemetery to avoid capture," Nameek says. "They are trying to stay out of sight so they won't be forced to join the militia, pulled out of their houses at the point of a gun."
Nameek, 32, came to the United States in 1992 after participating in an unsuccessful anti-Hussein uprising in northern Iraq after the Gulf War. He now owns a gas station in Manassas and he's active with an exile group called the Free Officers and Civilians Movement.
When he talked to his cousins in Kirkuk on Tuesday, Nameek told them they would soon be free. But they were skeptical, he says, because they were still getting Iraqi government TV.
"If the TV is still on, it doesn't seem to them like Saddam will be gone anytime soon," he says. "As long as it's on, even if it's just music or the national anthem, it means he's still in power."
A few days ago, Nameek heard news reports that coalition bombs had knocked out Iraqi television broadcasts temporarily. But he hasn't been able to discuss that news with his cousins in Kirkuk because he can no longer reach them by phone. He keeps calling and calling, but he can't get through.
"Sometimes you get a busy signal," he says. "Sometimes it tells you you got a wrong number and try again. But mostly it just keeps ringing and ringing and ringing."