DEARBORN, MICH. — “USA! USA! USA!”
They came to the U.S. to realize the American Dream, but this week hundreds of Iraqi-Americans celebrated the Iraqi Dream — the end of Saddam Hussein’s barbaric regime. Dearborn’s neat, working-class streets in southeast Michigan are home to America’s largest concentration of Iraqi Americans, and today they were transformed into a festival of American flags, confetti, beating drums, and cars honking their horns in jubilation at the news that Baghdad had fallen to U.S. troops.
For the Bush administration, the stated goal of regime change in Iraq is to rid the country of its weapons of mass destruction. But to these ex-Iraqis, Saddam’s ouster is about one thing: liberation.
“Liberation! Liberation! Liberation!” shouted Hany Choulagh, a Caldean from Baghdad, amidst a flag-waving crowd estimated at 700. “I was expecting this for many years,” he continued, “but this time President Bush has made our dreams come true.”
“Oh, my God, it makes me cry,” exclaimed Alan Owanainati, a native of Baghdad, when asked to describe his feelings at the television images of U.S. Marines bringing down Saddam’s Baghdad statue. “I never believed I would see this day.”
All afternoon and into the evening, as Iraqi Shiites, Sunnis, and Caldeans streamed in and out of this corner of Dearborn’s Hanover Park to join the party, the promise and power of the United States was evident. With its swings, jungle gyms, and ball fields, the park is a picturesque reminder of the refuge that these people have found on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean from the tyrant Saddam.
Yet, their adopted country is not content with offering refuge. America has sent its own soldiers back across the Atlantic Ocean to die for these immigrants’ fellow countryman and offer Iraqis democracy not just in the U.S. but in Iraq as well. The sacrifice is not lost on these cheering throngs.
“Please tell President Bush thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” said Raji Alhuli, a Nasiriyah native, echoing the sentiments of a steady stream of Iraqis who approached this reporter. The war’s opponents, the French in particular, received lesser reviews. “They have no right to talk for us,” exclaims Choulagh. “They don’t know what it’s like to live under dictatorship. They only know how to profit from it.”
But just beneath the cheers was the grief that these families had suffered under Saddam. Like the dozen other Iraqis I spoke with, Raji Alhuli has had direct experience with Saddam’s brutality. “My father was jailed for five months,” he said, “because he said he didn’t like Saddam and wouldn’t join the Baath party.”
Nadia Alwemi, a Shiite born in Nasiriyah, exulted: “This is great for Iraqis! For all people! Thank you Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair!” Then she broke down in sobs as she remembered her two brothers, both killed by Saddam’s regime.
Babylon native Aahaid Al Jbury arrived on these shores in 1991, after Saddam hung two of his brothers and then buried three more alive. Their crime? As Shiites, they had refused on religious grounds to fight in Saddam’s campaign against Kuwait.
“USA! USA! USA!” A Shiite imam from the nearby Karbal mosque, takes the stage under a huge banner that reads “Thank You President Bush for Everything!” and leads the crowd in a chant of “Praise Allah!”
Above the din, Dr. Owaninati says: “I left Iraq to escape oppression. I came here for respect and recognition. We thank the whole move that President Bush has made where others have failed us. This will be his legacy. Democracy will soon dominate and spread out all over Iraq.”
— Henry Payne is a freelance writer in Detroit, and editorial cartoonist for the Detroit News.