With tears in his eyes and a grin on his face, 13-year-old Ali Al-Najjar watched his father celebrate the death of Saddam Hussein.
The Dearborn resident was emotional Friday night Ã¢â‚¬â€ not only did his dream of the former Iraqi president’s execution come true, but he said he was witnessing a rare occurrence.
“This is the first time I’ve seen my dad this happy,” he said as he watched the crowd of about 200 Iraqi-Americans cheer outside a Detroit-area mosque as drivers honked horns in jubilation. “I’ve been praying for this all my life.”
His father, Imam Husham Al-Husainy, the director of the Karbalaa Islamic Educational Center mosque, had gathered some of the men earlier in the night, praying for the death of the former Iraqi dictator.
The crowd swelled until the announcement of Saddam’s execution rippled throughout the gathering, leading some to dance and sing and others to fall to their knees and cry. Many draped Iraqi and American flags on their heads, shoulders and car hoods.
Chants of “Now there’s peace, Saddam is dead” in English and Arabic rang into the night.
“This is our celebration of the death of Saddam,” said Al-Husainy while standing on top of a car following reports that Saddam had been hanged. “The gift of our New Year is the murder of Saddam Hussein.
“If you want to share the Iraqi people’s happiness for the death of Saddam, raise your voice and your hands.”
The crowd responded with resounding cheers.
The Detroit area contains one of the nation’s largest concentrations of people with roots in the Middle East, including an Iraqi community of Chaldeans, who are Catholic, Arabs and Kurds. Many from Iraq fled their homeland during the rule of Saddam.
In Dearborn, Dave Alwatan was among those who gathered at the Karbalaa center. He wore an Iraqi flag around his shoulders and grinned. He flashed a peace sign at everyone he passed.
“Peace,” he said, smiling and laughing. “Now there will be peace for my family.”
Alwatan, 32, an Iraqi-American, said Saddam’s forces tortured and killed family members that were left behind when he left Iraq in 1991.
Others expressed a similar sense of relief.
“I feel like I lost something all my life and today it is found,” said Moshtaq al-Bazaz, of Windsor, Ontario, who used to live in Dearborn and still prays at the mosque.
Some local Arab-American leaders predicted that Saddam’s execution will increase violence overseas and leave the Iraqi people unsettled.
Osama Siblani, publisher of The Arab American News and chairman of several local Arab-American groups, said Saddam’s death sentence is one more casualty in a war that has killed thousands, and it will not solve 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.
Edward Odisho, 68, an Iraqi refugee since 1981 who now lives in Morton Grove, Ill., said it will take time for Iraqis to recover from Saddam’s reign.
“It will take one to two generations to eradicate the garbage left over from Saddam Hussein and to re-establish a healthy generation,” said Odisho, a linguistics professor at Northeastern Illinois University.
Rauf Naqishbendi, 53, an Iraqi Kurd from Halabja who now lives a few miles south of San Francisco moved to the U.S. in 1977.
Naqishbendi said he was pleased that Saddam 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,” he said. “But the reality is that it’s not going to bring back my family members who he killed.”
Associated Press writers David Runk in Detroit, Carla K. Johnson in Chicago and Jason Dearen in San Francisco contributed to this report.
Copyright Ã‚Â© 2006 The Associated Press