Dozens of Iraqi-Americans gathered late Friday at a Detroit-area mosque to celebrate reports that Saddam Hussein had been executed, cheering and crying as drivers honked horns in jubilation.
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.
A crowd of more than 150 men gathered in anticipation of the former Iraqi dictator's execution, singing and dancing and chanting "Now there's peace, Saddam is dead" in English and Arabic.
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.
‘The gift of our New Year’
"This is our celebration of the death of Saddam," Al-Husainy said while standing on top of a car following reports by Iraqi state-run television that Saddam had been hanged. "The gift of our New Year is the murder of Saddam Hussein."
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."
‘It's not going to bring back my family members’
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 the loss of 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."
The Detroit area's Iraqi community includes a group of Chaldean Christians, many of whom fled their homeland during Saddam's rule.
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 the glee surrounding Saddam's death was laced with uncertainty about the future.
"The joy would have been complete if we were to see the healthy Iraq, the united Iraq, the safe Iraq," Hamad said. "Then everybody would be jumping up and down, celebrating."