Iraqi-Americans pray for Saddam's death

Updated: 2006-12-30 11:31

DEARBORN, Mich. - A group of Iraqi-Americans gathered late Friday at a mosque in anticipation of Saddam Hussein's execution, praying for the death of the former Iraqi dictator as drivers outside honked horns in celebration.

Dave Alwatan wore an Iraqi flag around his shoulders and flashed a peace sign to everyone he passed at the Karbalaa Islamic Educational Center in this suburb of Detroit, a city that has one of the nation's largest concentrations of people with roots in the Middle East.

"Peace," he said, grinning and laughing. "Now there will be peace for my family."

Alwatan, 32, said Saddam's forces tortured and killed relatives that were left behind when Alwatan left Iraq in 1991. He was among about 40 men who gathered at the Islamic center.

The center's director, Imam Husham Al-Husainy, said members prayed for Saddam's death. Outside, traffic slowed as people drove in circles around the mosque, honking horns.

Meanwhile, some local Arab-American leaders warned that Saddam's execution would increase violence in Iraq.

Osama Siblani, publisher of The Arab American News and chairman of several Arab-American groups, said the former dictator's death sentence was one more casualty in a war that has killed thousands. He said it will not end the power struggle among Iraqi religious groups.

"The execution might bring some amusement and accomplishment to the Bush administration, but it will not help the Iraqi people," Siblani said. "The problem we're facing in Iraq is going to multiply."

Rauf Naqishbendi, 53, an Iraqi Kurd who moved to the U.S. in 1977, said he was pleased that Hussein was being executed, but lamented that it will not bring back family members who he said were gassed by the dictator's henchman in 1988.

"Psychologically the execution is good news, and people will feel that justice has been served," said Naqishbendi, who lives a few miles south of San Francisco. "But the reality is that it's not going to bring back my family members who he killed."

Naqishbendi followed Hussein's trial closely and said it pained him to watch Hussein rant throughout the proceedings.

"If it wasn't for this tyrant, the Iraqi people wouldn't have to suffer the tragedies now under way," he said.

Siblani, who is also affiliated with the Congress of Arab American Organizations and the Arab American Political Action Committee, said Iraq will "disintegrate" even further after the execution.

The Detroit area's Iraqi community includes a group of Chaldeans, who are Catholic, Arabs and Kurds. Many from Iraq fled their homeland during the rule of Saddam.

Joseph Kassab, executive director of the Chaldean Federation of America, based in the Detroit suburb of Farmington Hills, said his humanitarian organization is against the taking of human life. But, he said, the world must reflect on Saddam's execution, "so we never again relinquish our destiny to tyrants like him."

Imad Hamad, director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Dearborn, said Saddam's victims were celebrating his impending death, but their happiness was laced with uncertainty about the future.

"Those who have been direct victims of Saddam, they cannot help but celebrate," said Hamad, who is originally a Palestinian from Lebanon.

"The joy would have been complete if we were to see the healthy Iraq, the united Iraq, the safe Iraq," he added. "Then everybody would be jumping up and down, celebrating."

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