Iraqi Enclave in Mich.: Oust Saddam
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DETROIT (AP) _ The banter at Babylonian Hair Design was more heated than usual Friday, hours after Congress gave support for military action against the country the barbers and clientele once called home.
As the United States moves closer to war, Iraqi immigrants say they worry about loved ones left behind, but know firsthand that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein poses an intolerable threat.
``You know why we’re here?″ said Frank Mikho, an outspoken 21-year-old Iraqi immigrant fresh from a trim. ``Because Saddam kills his own people. Most of my friends feel the same way. Saddam needs to go.″
That feeling has prevailed for years among many of the nearly 32,000 Iraqis who live in southeastern Michigan. They say they fled their homeland for freedom and democracy in the West and blame Hussein for the country’s problems.
Oakland County, an affluent region north of Detroit that’s home to DaimlerChrysler AG’s Chrysler division, has the country’s largest concentration of Iraqi-born people _ 1.3 percent of the population, or 15,434 people, according to the 2000 Census.
Automobile jobs led Iraqis to the Detroit area beginning in the 1930s, said Rudy Patros, marketing director for the Chaldean Federation of America in Southfield. Most of the Iraqis in southeastern Michigan are Chaldean, or Christian Iraqis, but some Muslims and Kurds also live in the area, he said.
The Babylonian, a barber shop in north Detroit, shares the street with cafes, grocery stores, churches and community centers catering to the city’s Chaldean community.
Like many other Iraqi immigrants, Babylonian regular Adel Shaba said he worried about the prospect of all-out war with Iraq, and preferred instead a quick strike against Saddam.
``I have cousins still there,″ said Shaba, 51. ``I worry about their safety. It’s already difficult. They have little food.″
Shaba said he speaks to his family there about once a month, and their sentiment is much the same.
``They hate him,″ he said. ``When he’s gone, we’ll all celebrate.″
Mikho, who moved to the United States with his family in 1996, said he suspects 30 percent to 40 percent of the area’s Iraqis would return home if Saddam were overthrown.
Shaba agreed, but said he won’t be among them.
``I left two houses, cars, acres to come here 23 years ago,″ said Shaba, who like Mikho works in a neighborhood convenience store. ``I have five children who were born here. This is my home. I love America.″
Some immigrants still fear the dictator they escaped, even with thousands of miles between them.
A 51-year-old Chaldean store owner in Oakland County’s Oak Park said he didn’t want his name used because he fears the government could punish his sister and nephews in Iraq. He said he’s convinced Saddam has U.S. operatives monitoring expatriates.
``He should have been removed 10 years ago,″ the man said. ``We wasted time and millions of dollars. Saddam must go.″