Iraqi-Americans Fear Backlash

The Early Show, Melinda talks to Iraqis
CBS/The Early Show
Iraqis have lived in the Detroit area, including Dearborn, Mich., for more than 80 years.

First drawn there by Henry Ford's auto boom of the 1920s, many more Iraqis have moved there after the 1991 Gulf war. And all of them have opinions about what is happening in their homeland, The Early Show Correspondent Melinda Murphy reports.

In the Detroit area, there are 100,000 Iraquis, a third of them in the Michigan suburb of Dearborn, where they came to escape Saddam Hussein.

"Which one of you would like to see Saddam removed?" An Iraqi immigrant asks this question in Arabic of fellow immigrants. All raised their hands.

"Saddam's people shoot him and he lost his finger," said the translator, pointing at the hand of one immigrant.

Man after man after man at a Shiite Muslim community center showed the scars of the Iraqi regime - physical and emotional.

"How many of you lost somebody because of Saddam?" the translator continued asking.

"Two brothers," said one.

"Five brothers," said another.

It's obvious why so many here want Saddam toppled. But it's how he's being toppled that is causing some concern.

"Nobody would be happy to see his country being demolished and bombed. It's a mixed feeling of doubt, fear and hope," said Iman Husham Al-Husainy of the Karbalaa Islamic Center.

Kawther al-Kased and her family came here after the 1991 uprising and her son, Emad, says this war is completely justified.

"We try to liberate our country from this dictatorship and his leaders and we did not have a chance. We've been trying and trying and trying," he said.

Emad and his friends gather at their local hangout and watch together while Baghdad burns.

"We all feel sorry for the Iraqi people, but this is the time to clear up everything," said his friend Mitch Liath.

Sal Koki, another Iraqi immigrant, adds, "They say that bombs are dropping in Iraq and innocent people are dying. Well, innocent people have been dying in Iraq for 20 years."

But is war the answer? Some don't think so.

"The Arab community in general is against the war. That is a fact," said Lebanon-born Osama Siblani. He publishes the nation's oldest and largest Arab-American newspaper.

"It makes me proud to see America, you know, promoting freedom and liberty in the world. Not going out and killing people for oil wells and more power," he adds.

And the motives behind this war are also being questioned by some Iraqis. Asked if he thinks America is doing the right thing by going to Iraq, Al Husainy said, "It depends on the purpose and the goal. If it is because of the oppressed people of Iraq, it will be partly justified.

"But if it is for oil and economy or re-election, I don't think it is worth it. It remains to be seen," he said

But whatever the future reveals, the Iraqis interviewed in Dearborn agree on one thing. As grateful as many of them are to the coalition troops, they do not want their homeland occupied.

"The smart bomb is very smart, but it doesn't speak the language of the people," noted Al Husainy. And many of the people who speak that language living in Dearborn say they plan to return to Iraq when Saddam Hussein is no longer in power.

From Zanaib Al Suwaij's point of view the war is going well. Back in 1991, Zanaib Al Suwaij was a 20-year-old fighting to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Al Suwaij eventually fled Iraq with 19 friends and relatives crammed into one small car. Today, she lives in Boston and is the executive director of the American Islamic Congress.

"I just saw on the news that the city of Umm Qasr has just been liberated, and I think it's great. The city of Umm Qasr is about 30 miles away from my hometown of Basra. And I saw, as we all were watching TV, how happy people were, and I hope, you know, our troops just go to Baghdad and liberate the rest of the country as soon as possible," she told The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith.

But she pointed out it may be difficult for American soldiers to distinguish Saddam's Republican Guards and the ordinary people.

Earlier President Bush said, "We're making good progress. We're fighting an enemy that knows no rules of law, that will wear civilian uniforms, that are willing to kill in order to continue the reign of fear of Saddam Hussein. But we're fighting them with bravery and courage."

Al Suwaij noted the Iraqis may be having mixed feelings.

"Iraqis are eager to get rid of Saddam, but also at the same time, in 1991, when the uprising happened, America did not go through, so the people have mixed feelings between that. They are afraid of that, America will not support them once again, and Saddam will gather his troops and kill them," she said.

Yet Al Suwaij is optimistic about the way things are going; on Thursday night, she said she was able to speak with family members in Iraq. "I spoke with people in Baghdad and Basra. They are doing well, and they are asking, 'When are the Americans arriving to liberate us?' I was so surprised to see that they are talking openly. Because usually you cannot talk that open over the phone," she said.

In past conversations, her friends and family had to be careful about what they said on the phone for fear of being wiretapped. So she asked them how things are going.

"They said the bombing is only targeting military bases and official offices and government ministries. And there are some losses here and there, civilian, but they are trying to minimize it to official offices, buildings only," she explained.