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Thursday, April 8

Shiites in Mich. fear Iraq's becoming 'beacon of instability'

By Gregg Krupa | The Detroit News

DEARBORN, Mich. - One year after American soldiers helped Iraqis pull down the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, local Shiites increasingly express doubts that the United States is stabilizing their homeland, let alone creating a democracy.

Mistaken policies and tactics are leading to more disorder and violence, many Shiites say, not the peace and self-determination for which they hoped.

``The Bush administration spoke about Iraq becoming a beacon of democracy,'' said Imam Sayed Hassan al-Qazwini of the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn. ``But I am afraid Iraq is becoming a beacon of instability.''

Many Shiites say the United States must shift tactics. The escalating military action is not the best response to increasing disorder, even in Sunni areas of the country, they say. There is near unanimous concern that when Iraqis identify members of Saddam's Baath Party who are guilty of atrocities, Americans have not arrested them. And they also say the economy remains so weak that even well-educated Iraqi professionals cannot find work.

There are about 20,000 Iraqi Shiites Muslims in Dearborn. Many fled here after Saddam crushed a massive Shiite uprising in 1991. They comprise about two-thirds of the 25 million people in Iraq.

Zayd Allebban, 25, a Shiite Muslim and a student at the Wayne State University Law School in Detroit says many Shiites do not deny that Iraq has a better future without Saddam Hussein in power. (Brandy Baker | The Detroit News)

Zayd Allebban, 25, a Shiite Muslim and a law student at Wayne State University, said no one denies that Iraqis have a better future without Saddam. But the continuing loss of life is ``horrific.''

``I hate to reduce human lives to numbers,'' he said. ``But it is said there were 1,000 lives lost per month under Saddam, and (a total of) 8,000 since the invasion. Numerically, we are better off. But, at the same time, the basic necessities of life are lacking - safety, jobs, water, electricity.''

Afthal Alshami, a 42-year-old engineer at the Ford Motor Co., says circumstances would improve if the United States rounded up Baathists who committed atrocities, took tougher action in the so-called Sunni Triangle and forged an alliance with the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani.

Alshami, who visited Iraq in December and January, agreed with many Shiites that Sunnis are not the problem. But he said remnants of the former regime have ``melted into'' the Sunni Triangle. Meanwhile, al-Sistani has nearly unanimous support among Shiites and substantial support among other Iraqi religious and ethnic groups, who view the aged cleric as ``a man who can be trusted,'' Alshami said.

Al-Qazwini and another prominent local Shiite cleric, Imam Husham Al-Husainy of the Karbala Islamic Education Center in Dearborn, criticized the tactics used against the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Al-Husainy says Iraqis find the preoccupation with al-Sadr utterly inconsistent with the failure to pursue murderous Baathists.

The coalition has targeted al-Sadr both for the alleged murder of a rival cleric and because he is leading resistance to the occupation.

The matter of al-Sadr's guilt or innocence should be left to ``free, democratic Iraqis'' in a future government, al-Qazwini said.

Both imams said the suppression of al-Sadr and his newspaper, which the coalition shut down last month, belies the expressed policy of democratizing Iraq.

Many local Shiites agree with both clerics that while U.S. soldiers are to be praised - ``sanctified'' is a word often used - for their role in deposing Saddam, the escalating military response to greater unrest in Iraq is counterproductive.

They often express regret for the loss of American lives, continually referring to U.S. soldiers as ``our troops.''

Qazwini called for the involvement of the United Nations, multilateral negotiations between all parties - including al-Sadr - and democratic elections, soon.

Al-Husainy said he makes building ``a bridge of love and understanding'' between the United States and Iraq the work of his life, and that he feels guilty about how things are evolving.

``I feel sad because what is happening is not supposed to be happening,'' he said. ``We would like to see an organized government and an organized society, and what we see happening is chaos.''