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Arab-Americans rally after Saddam statue toppled

Dearborn rally
Members of Dearborn, Michigan's Arab-American community hit a poster of Saddam Hussein with their shoes, hands and American flags Wednesday.

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Celebrations erupted in the city that is home to the largest U.S. population of Iraqi exiles. CNN's Jamie Colby reports (April 10)
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To the cheers of Iraqis, a U.S. Marine armored recovery vehicle pulls down a towering statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad's Firdos Square. (April 9)
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DEARBORN, Michigan (CNN) -- Shortly after television pictures Wednesday showed U.S. troops toppling a huge statue of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, about 2,000 people in the heavily Arab-American community of Dearborn, Michigan, gathered to celebrate.

Many held signs that read "Free Iraq" and "Thanks USA!" One read "Saddam gone with the wind." Many women, wearing headscarves, happily held their children, who waved American flags.

"We are 4 million in exile," said Husham al-Husainy, a leader of the Muslim Iraqi community here. "Two million people got killed by Saddam. Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children in prison. What do you expect? It is a celebration. Thanks God."

The peaceful crowd came together along the city's Warren Road, which is a main street of the area's Arab-American neighborhood, said Dearborn Police Sgt. Walter Anhut.

The street is lined with Arab-American businesses, many displaying signs written in Arabic.

Ralliers spilled from the parking lot of a Marathon gas station, blocking the intersection of Warren and Yinger roads, Anhut said.

The seemingly spontaneous rally apparently was sparked by TV pictures of Iraqis dragging the head of a larger-than-life statue of Saddam through the streets of Baghdad Wednesday evening.

A U.S. Marine armored recovery vehicle toppled the statue from its pedestal in the capital's Firdos Square as a crowd of Iraqis danced and waved the country's pre-1991 flag.

Iraqis cheered Wednesday as U.S. Marines toppled a large statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad.
Iraqis cheered Wednesday as U.S. Marines toppled a large statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad.

In Dearborn, many celebrators shouted their thanks to President George W. Bush and the U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq, Anhut said.

As cheerful Arab-Americans filled the streets, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in Washington declared Wednesday "a good day for the Iraqi people" amid evidence that Saddam's rule was crumbling under the weight of U.S.-led military attacks on the Iraqi military.

At one point the crowd turned on a three-person television crew from the Arab language news network Al-Jazeera, crowding around them and chanting "Down, down Al-Jazeera!"

Many in the crowd waved their hands in the air -- their thumbs pointed down -- and accused the network of being in cahoots with Saddam's regime.

"Saddam paid Al-Jazeera $20 million a year for their reports, and they never reported how many people he killed," said demonstrator Kevin Altamimi.

The protest grew tense as it dragged on for 45 minutes, with at least seven police officers having to protect the Al-Jazeera reporter, producer and cameraman.

The police quietly suggested that the crew duck into a nearby satellite truck and they complied, although some in the crowd continued to stare intently at the vehicle.

Al-Jazeera reporter, Nedam Mahdawi, told CNN, "We came here to cover a celebration here, and I am very surprised to see their anger."

He added, "We are doing our job. We are working very hard to be balanced in our news coverage. We want to show Arabs in Arabic countries their views about what is happening in Iraq."

Dearborn is an older suburb of 97,000 on Detroit's working class west side. It is home to Ford Motor Co. and the heart of one of the largest Arab-American populations in the United States, home to 12 mosques.

About 90,000 Americans of Iraqi descent live in the entire Detroit metropolitan area and as many as 300,000 area residents are of Middle Eastern descent, according to the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

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