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A crowd of Iraqi-Americans cheered and cried outside a mosque in Dearborn, Michigan on Saturday morning as reports filtered through that former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein had been executed.

The crowd of more than 150 had gathered in anticipation of Saddam's hanging late Friday, praying for the death of the former Iraqi dictator as people honked car horns, sang and danced in celebration.

Chants of "Now there's peace, Saddam is dead" in English and Arabic rang into the night in the Detroit suburb.

Imam Husham Al-Husainy, the director of the Karbalaa Islamic Educational Center, said members of the center prayed for Saddam's death. Outside, traffic slowed as people drove in circles around the mosque, honking horns and flashing peace signs.

"This is our celebration of the death of Saddam," Al-Husainy said while standing on top of a car following the news that Saddam had been hanged.

"The gift of our New Year is the murder of Saddam Hussein."

The Detroit area contains one of the United States' largest concentrations of people with roots in the Middle East, including an Iraqi community of Chaldeans, who are Catholic, Arabs and Kurds. Many from Iraq fled their homeland during the rule of Saddam.

In Dearborn, Dave Alwatan was among those who gathered at the Karbalaa center. He wore an Iraqi flag around his shoulders and grinned. He flashed a peace sign with a hand at everyone he passed.

"Peace," he said, smiling and laughing. "Now there will be peace for my family."

Alwatan, 32, an Iraqi-American from Dearborn, added: "My dream has come true."

He said Saddam's forces tortured and killed family members who were left behind when Alwatan left Iraq in 1991.

Imad Hamad, director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in nearby Dearborn, said that many Iraqi people are fearful of what lies ahead.

"There is a unique joy when any dictator is being brought to justice, and those who have been direct victims of Saddam, they cannot help but celebrate," said Hamad, who is originally a Palestinian from Lebanon. "The joy would have been complete if we were to see the healthy Iraq, the united Iraq, the safe Iraq. Then everybody would be jumping up and down, celebrating."

Hamad said that the future of the Iraqi people should be the main focus.

"We captured him, we took down his regime, now we execute him," he said. "Does that change Iraq? Does that bring peace and security to Iraq? I don't think so."

Osama Siblani, publisher of The Arab American News and chairman of several local Arab-American groups, said Saddam's death sentence is one more casualty in a war that has killed thousands, and won't solve 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."

Edward Odisho, 68, an Iraqi refugee since 1981 who now lives in Morton Grove, Illinois, said it will take time for Iraqis to recover from Saddam's reign.

"It will take one to two generations to eradicate the garbage left over from Saddam Hussein and to reestablish a healthy generation," said Odisho, a linguistics professor at Northeastern Illinois University.

Joseph Kassab, executive director of the Chaldean Federation of America, based in the Detroit suburb of Farmington Hills, Michigan, said his humanitarian oganization is against the taking of human life. But Kassab noted there are lessons to be learned.

"His execution should become an occasion upon which the world must reflect and remember so we never again relinquish our destiny to tyrants like him," Kassab said.

Buried in YemenAhead of the execution of Saddam Hussein, his daughter had asked that his body be buried in Yemen, a source close to the family said.

His daughter Raghd, who is exiled in Jordan, "is asking that his body be buried in Yemen temporarily until Iraq is liberated and it can be reburied in Iraq," a source close to the family said by telephone.

Defense lawyer Issam Jhazzawi told Reuters earlier Saddam's daughters were bracing for his imminent death. "The family are praying for him every minute and are calling on God that He let his soul rest in peace among the martyrs," he said.

Meanwhile, the Yemeni and Libyan governments on Friday made 11th hour appeals to spare the former leader's life.

Yemeni Prime Minister Abdul-Kader Bajammal wrote to the U.S. and Iraqi presidents, urging them to save Saddam, according to the official Yemeni news agency Saba.

Bajammal wrote to President George W. Bush that Saddam's execution would "increase the sectarian violence" in Iraq, Saba reported.

In a letter to President Jalal Talabani, Bajammal urged the Iraqi leader to halt the execution and employ his "wisdom and political prudence to create a climate that helps heal the wounds" in the country.

It was not clear why Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh did not write the letters. Saleh maintained close ties with Saddam and was among the few Arab leaders who supported Saddam during the 1991 Gulf crisis. Yemen is believed to host thousands of Baath Party members and exiled officials of Saddam's regime.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi made an indirect appeal for Saddam's life, telling Al-Jazeera television that his trial was illegal and that he should be retried by an international court.

Saddam was a prisoner of war, and "those who arrested should try him," Gadhafi said, referring to the American troops who captured Saddam in December 2003.

The Kurdish population was awaiting the execution with grim satisfaction. Zanah Hadi, a 50-year-old Kurdish labourer, cannnot wait to see Saddam Hussein hang but like many in Iraq he fears the former president's execution could spark more violence.

"Every Kurd in Kirkuk and beyond is longing to see Saddam hanging on the rope from the gallows," he said on Friday evening as the hanging was reported to be just hours away.

"If Saddam is executed, I will fire 70 shots in the air and I will dance until I drop," he said.

Leaders in one of the United States' largest Arab-American communities also said Saddam Hussein's execution would increase violence overseas and would not help the Iraqi people.

Osama Siblani, publisher of The Arab American News, said Saddam's death sentence is one more casualty in a war that has killed thousands, and it would not solve 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," said Siblani, who is also affiliated with the Congress of Arab American Organizations and the Arab American Political Action Committee. "The problem we're facing in Iraq is going to multiply."

Joseph Kassab, executive director of the Chaldean Federation of America, said his humanitarian organization is against the taking of human life. But he noted there are lessons to be learned.

"His execution should become an occasion upon which the world must reflect and remember so we never again relinquish our destiny to tyrants like him," Kassab said.

Related links:

  • Saddam Hussein executed by hanging in Baghdad
  • Key dates in the life of Saddam Hussein
  • A glance at Saddam Hussein's crimes
  • Saddam Hussein quotes from his trials

    Image galleries:

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  • The first Gulf War

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