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April 10, 2003

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Many Iraqi-Americans Jubilant, Relieved
Iraqi-Americans Rejoice at Saddam's Apparent Defeat and Plan for the Future

The Associated Press

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DEARBORN, Mich. April 10

Without fail, for 17 years, Zahra al-Jafer wore only black clothes.

Her wardrobe choice was to honor her husband, executed by Saddam Hussein's security forces after he defected from the Iraqi army. His family was forced to watch as he was killed.

On Wednesday, the black gowns were cast aside for brighter colors.

Iraq's liberation seemed to be at hand, bringing with it new hope for Zahra al-Jafer and millions of other Iraqis.

"Today, my father has been born again," said her son, Salah al-Jafer, as at least 1,200 people took to the streets in celebration of what appeared to be the imminent demise of Saddam's regime.

Southeast Michigan is home to about 300,000 people of various Middle Eastern ethnicities; nearly 30,000, or 30 percent, of Dearborn's population claimed Arab ancestry in the latest census.

As images flashed on television of U.S. Marines and Iraqis toppling a 40-foot statue of Saddam in the center of Baghdad, many Iraqis in communities across the United States celebrated.

In El Cajon, Calif., home to about 6,000 Iraqi Kurds, about 150 people rejoiced in the streets. And in Everett, Wash., hundreds of jubilant Iraqi immigrants danced and chanted, car horns blaring.

"This is a burst of happiness after 30 years of misery and torture," said Bassim al-Montasser, 40, of Dearborn. "How can you describe such joy when all you and your countrymen have known is misery?"

A minor scuffle was reported at the rally in Dearborn's Hemlock Park when a Washington D.C.-based Al-Jazeera television camera crew appeared at the rally. Police separated the crew and held the crowd, apparently upset about the networks' coverage of the war, at bay.

In Bridgport, Conn., Kurdish residents were huddled around their TV sets, watching images of people dancing in the streets of northern Iraq. One man, Hekmat Musa, wore a sweat shirt that read "Land of the Free, Home of the Brave."

"That's my country," he said, pointing at the screen. "I'm happy Saddam Hussein is gone."

But not all Iraqi-Americans shared those feelings. Hadi Jawad, vice president and board member of the Dallas Peace Center, said he sees coalition forces not as liberators, but as subjugators of Iraq's people and resources.

"They have resorted to war, to violence, to killing thousands of Iraqi civilians," he said. "The means they have resorted to to accomplish the removal of the regime is unconscionable. It's a criminal act."

For others, the changes in Iraq were a blessing.

Rodwan Nakshabandi, who opened Babani's Kurdish Restaurant in St. Paul, Minn., six years ago, fled the Iraqi army in 1982, shortly after being drafted and ordered to drive a tank during the Iraq-Iran war.

"I believe a dream has come true," he said, sitting at a table in his restaurant. "I strongly believe everyone should celebrate the joy the Iraqi people are having now. There have been so many years of manipulation, of human rights abuses, of ethnic cleansing."

About 150 people celebrated outside the Kurdish Human Rights Watch office in Dallas. As young people danced and others waved Kurdish and U.S. flags, a group of older Kurdish men chatted a few feet away.

One of them, Saleem Yusuf Haji, said through a translator that he fought as a Kurdish "freedom fighter" from 1961 to 1975 for what became the Kurdish Democratic Party. The 71-year-old came to the United States in 1991 and said he has long awaited Wednesday's events.

"I feel like I'm reborn again," Haji said.

Jabbar Al-Roumi, a former Iraqi soldier whose knee was maimed by a bomb during the Iran-Iraq war, was already thinking of returning to his home in Basra.

"The future is better now," he said while drinking strong coffee in a downtown Paterson, N.J., cafe frequented by Iraqi expatriates. "I will go back, get married, work again and be in love. That's it. Very good."

On the Net:

Iraqi-American Council:

photo credit and caption:
An Iraqi flag is waved alongside a U.S. flag during a rally at Hemlock Park in Dearborn, Mich., Wednesday, April 9, 2003. Decades of fear and frustration were set aside Wednesday as hundreds of Michigan's Iraqis took to the streets in celebration at the apparent end to Saddam Hussein's regime. About 1,200 people, according to police estimates, gathered at in Dearborn, celebrating the news. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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