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Published: Thursday, 4/10/2003

For local Iraqis, Saddam's end is `our 4th of July'

BY GEORGE J. TANBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

When Lewis Babona saw on TV the 40-foot-tall statue of Saddam Hussein brought down yesterday by a U.S. tank retriever in Baghdad, signaling the end of the Iraq president's dictatorship, he knew he had seen what was for him the defining moment of the three-week war.

“I'm so happy, I don't know what to do here,” said the Iraqi-American from his central Toledo grocery.

“I'm thinking about bringing out pop and chips and letting the neighborhood eat for free.”

The developments in Baghdad triggered similar emotions among Toledo's sparse Iraqi population. Meanwhile, in Dearborn, Mich., 55 miles north of Toledo, hundreds of Iraqis carrying American flags took to the streets to celebrate Saddam's apparent demise.

“It's so beautiful. It's a miracle,” said Sarra Srour, 27, whose family-owned Dearborn restaurant, Khan Mirjan, was packed yesterday afternoon with celebrating Iraqis.

“This is the first time we can sleep.”

In Toledo, even Nael Hamdi, who had protested against the war, was pleased with the apparent overthrow of the Iraqi leader.

“I'm [happy] that the SOB is gone, even though he's like a cat with nine lives,” he said.

But Mr. Hamdi lamented the cost of such a victory by coalition troops.

“I feel sad for all the civilians that died. It could have been done differently,” he said.

Estimates of civilian deaths have varied, but several reports have listed them in the thousands.

The Red Cross on Monday said the number of casualties in Baghdad was too high to estimate.

Yousif Shikwana, another Toledo Iraqi-American grocery owner, said such losses, though unfortunate, were inevitable.

“I expected it to happen. It is war. It is the price of liberation.”

Mr. Shikwana, who said he received scores of phone calls yesterday from Iraqis all over the United States, preferred to focus on the day's stunning events.

“It is our Fourth of July. We will remember this moment for the rest of our lives,” he said, referring to the statue's removal.

Mr. Babona concurred.

“The statue was like the devil. He was there thinking of himself, not his people,” he said.

With Baghdad mostly secured, other issues have become more urgent, such as the fate of relatives living in Baghdad whom Iraqi-Americans have been unable to reach.

Mr. Hamdi has been a nervous wreck since Tuesday night, when a TV camera briefly scanned a wounded Iraqi who looked like his brother.

“Bandages covered two-thirds of his face, but it looked like [him],” he said. “I can't find out.”

He also worries about the damage inflicted by American troops on Baghdad.

“It was a beautiful city. Now it's turned to rubble. It will take years and years to fix it, all the income from the oil,” he said.

Abid Al-Marayati, an Iraqi-American professor emeritus at the University of Toledo, wonders how a new Iraq will be ruled.

“It's easy to overthrow a government. It's always difficult to build a new system,” he said.

This report includes information from the Associated Press.



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