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Iraq Journals

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Thursday, April 10

Dearborn, Mich., Iraqis' joy turns to sorrow, suspicion

By Jennifer Brooks | The Detroit News

DEARBORN - On Wednesday they danced in the streets. By Thursday, a more somber mood settled over Dearborn's Iraqis.

The joyous mood shattered at the news that two of their own, exiled Iraqis who rushed back to their homeland to aid in the rebuilding, had died - murdered as they tried to protect two Muslim clerics from a knife-wielding mob in the holy city of Najaf.

For many in the community, the deaths were an ominous sign that the American forces - who occupy Najaf and most of southern Iraq - may not be able to deliver on their promise of peace.

"Bringing down that statue doesn't mean Iraq is liberated," said Imam Husham Al-Hussainy of Dearborn's Karbalaa Islamic Education Center, who joined in the joyous street parties Wednesday after President Saddam Hussein's statues began toppling in Baghdad. Now, however, he shares with his congregation a growing sense of resentment and suspicion of U.S. motives.

In one corner or the Karbalaa Center, a gigantic flat-screen television, tuned to an Arabic news broadcast, competes with the call to prayer for the attention of the worshipers Thursday. Scenes of looting and chaos in Baghdad dominate the screen.

Why, they ask, have U.S. forces been unable to restore the rule of law in liberated Iraqi cities? Why have they not allowed Shiite militias - a force of 50,000 have been trained in neighboring Iran - to fight, as the Kurdish militias do in the north? Why did it take the coalition five days to liberate the tiny village of Um Qasr and almost no time to conquer Baghdad - did they cut a deal with Saddam?

"There is a different vision for the future of Iraq," Hussainy said. "There is the vision of the coalition and the vision of the Iraqi people."

Hussainy is the U.S. representative for the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the largest of all the Iraqi opposition groups - and the only one with its own army. He is a top aide to the Ayatollah al-Hakim, the spiritual leader of Iraq's oppressed Shiite majority.

He also was part of the group that elected a provisional government council for Iraq - a council that was to be headed by religious and secular leaders representing the nation's various ethnic and cultural groups. That provisional government, he says, has been utterly ignored by the United States.

"Let us help clean up our own country. This is killing the joy of liberation for us," he said.

The Karbalaa Center has already suffered losses in the liberation of Iraq. Twelve men from the center left, either to aid the U.S. military as translators or to aid the returning Shiite exiles. Three of them have been killed in the past week.

Jahil Alzayadi, 45, a father of eight, was killed five days ago while serving as a military translator. Thursday, news came that Husain Abid Sualtan and Mahir Alyasir had been killed in the first of what could be many incidents of vengeance killings and ethnic backlash.

The two men were acting as bodyguards for Ayatollah Abdul Majid al-Khoei, a popular spiritual leader who had just returned to the holy city to try to forge a reconciliation with one of the most hated figures of the old regime - Haider al-Kadar of Saddam's ministry of religion. The ministry had brutally repressed the practice of the Shiite religion.

An enraged crowd reportedly rushed Kadar inside the Imam Ali Mosque, Shiite Islam's holiest shrine, and hacked him and those around him to death.

As coalition forces sweep into central and northern Iraq, the exiles are beginning to return to cities in the south, rushing to fill the political and economic vacuum left by the collapsing regime.

At least 35 Dearborn-area Shiites left for Iraq before the war began, to act as translators and military advisers. Hundreds more may follow in the coming weeks.

But as Thursday's events demonstrated, a return from exile is not without risk. The biggest risk postwar planners run is the possibility of civil war between one or more of Iraq's religious or ethnic groups.

Shiites are a minority sect within Islam but a majority of Iraq's population, although they have been marginalized by the ruling Sunni minority for decades.

It remains to be seen if the returning exiles will be able to prevent a bloody backlash against the Sunnis and other religious minorities. Hundreds of people died in political reprisals during the 1991 uprisings against Saddam, when Shiites seized control of southern Iraq for 21 days after the gulf war coalition withdrew from the country.

Shiites make up about 60 percent of Iraq's population. Sunnis make up most of the rest of the population, although 20 percent are Sunni Kurds, who have ample reason of their own to seek retribution against the ruling class. Christians, including Catholic Chaldeans, make up between 3 and 5 percent of the population.