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Iraqis in Michigan paraded through the streets waving American and Iraqi flags, while others around the nation greeted signs that Saddam Hussein's regime is crumbling with tears of joy.
Worries about relatives in their homeland persisted, but a wave of relief washed over many in the Iraqi-American community Wednesday as they saw news reports of collapsing opposition to U.S. troops in Baghdad.
"This is a day we've been waiting for 35 years," said Feisal Amin Al-Istrabadi, a Chicago lawyer who went in late to work after watching events unfold on television. "It's a tremendous relief that it seems that this is the beginning of the end. I'm very, very proud to be an American today, as well as an Iraqi."
In Dearborn, Mich., a crowd of about 200 people and dozens of honking cars paraded by the Karbalaa Islamic Center in the largely Arab Detroit suburb.
Some people stood on car roofs, others chanted slogans in Arabic, including "Hey hey, Saddam, hey Saddam, where are you going to escape to?" and "Saddam is dead, long live Iraq." At one point, the crowd used candy to pelt a large cardboard drawing of Saddam, took the picture out into the street, jumped on it and eventually tore it in half.
"Today is my birthday," said Ali Al-Ghazali, 46, a native of southern Iraq. "But it's also the birthday for all Iraqis."
Salah Flaih, who decorated his Manchester, N.H., convenience store with American flags and a life-sized cardboard cutout of President Bush, hopped up and down as he watched television images of U.S. Marines and Iraqis topple a 40-foot statue of Saddam that stood in the center of Baghdad's Fardos Square.
"Oh, the Iraqi people are happy now," said Flaih, 49, who moved to New Hampshire with his wife and sons 2 1/2 years ago. "It's the happiest moment in my life. It's my liberation day."
In Lincoln, Neb., Omar Younis watched the same images. "It's exciting, it's very great," said Younis, who has family living in Mosul. "I wish I was there to participate with the people."
Ithaar Derweesh, who hasn't been able to sleep more than three hours a night since the war started, said he woke up early to "the adrenaline rush of watching history unfold," seeing television images of people throwing flowers at American tanks, waving flags and removing symbols of Saddam's regime.
"It's beautiful," said Derweesh, 32, a Cleveland surgeon whose family left Iraq when he was 9 years old. "I cried tears of joy."
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."
As Iraqi-Americans watched the looting in the streets of Baghdad, they also are concerned about relatives living there, and whether they have electricity or running water.
"I'd like to see calm restored," said Al-Istrabadi, whose cousins, aunts and uncles live in Iraq. "One of my nephews is 20 years old. He has never known a regime other than Saddam's. So this is where the future of Iraq lies -- how are they going to be able to engender and maintain these democratic institutions?"
Now, the hard work begins, said Al-Istrabadi, who is vice president for legal affairs at the Iraqi Forum for Democracy.
"The liberation of Baghdad is in many respects the easy part," he said. "How do you go about reconstructing a civil society? How do you go about reintroducing the rule of law? While I'm optimistic about the future, I also realize that it's going to be a herculean effort."
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)