DEARBORN – Amid screams of support, President George W. Bush addressed Iraqi-Americans, representatives from the Arab-American community, and the nation, saying “The days of repression from any source are over. Iraq will be democratic.”
Bush spoke at the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center in Dearborn, which has the largest Arab-American community in the nation (over 200,000) and is home to the first Islamic mosque in the U.S.
“I regret that I wasn’t here a few weeks ago when the statue came down. I understand you had quite a party. I don’t blame you. A lot of the people in the Detroit area had waited years for that great day,” he added. “The opulent presidential palace in Basra will now serve a new and noble purpose. We’ve established a water purification unit there.”
Bush highlighted his continued efforts to restore basic services to the Iraqi people, pointing out improvements such as the renewed production of oil and access to clean water in cities like Hillah and Basra.
“Day by day, hour by hour, life in Iraq is getting better for the citizens. Yet, much work remains to be done,” he said. “Congress recently allocated $2.5 – nearly $2.5 billion for Iraq’s relief and reconstruction. With that money, we are renewing Iraq with the help of experts from inside our government, from private industry, from the international community and, most importantly, from within Iraq.”
He also stressed how Iraqis living in the U.S. and Iraq both have expressed their support for the U.S. initiative.
“I talked to Tarik Daoud, a Catholic from Basra who now lives in Bloomfield Hills. When the dictator regime fell, here’s what Tariq said, he said: I am more hopeful today than I’ve been since 1958. … The new generation could really make democracy work,” he said.
“Earlier this month, Iraqis helped Marines locate the seven American prisoners of war, who were then rescued in Northern Iraq. One courageous Iraqi man gave Marines detailed layouts of a hospital in An Nasiriyah, which led to the rescue of American soldier Jessica Lynch,” he added. “The desire for freedom is not the property of one culture, it is the universal hope of human beings in every culture.”
Laith Alattar, a recent University graduate and member of the Iraqi forum for democracy, said he feels that the attendants were thankful, but that there are many who oppose the war.
“I was invited to sit on the stage behind the president to represent my generation of Iraqi Americans,” he said. “The theme from the Iraqi attendants, at the speech, was a thank you. A lot of gratitude for liberation and a lot of support for the U.S. and the troops.”
He added that most non-Iraqi Arab-Americans are against the war.
“All of the Arab population, most of them are just against this whole thing,” he added. “They don’t want to see a liberation.”
Bush also thanked the many members of the Dearborn community who have voiced support for the U.S.’s initiative and afterward held a private meeting with some of them.
Imam Husham Al-Husainy, the Iraqi-born leader of the Karbalaa Islamic Center in Dearborn and political activist has long supported the president in his actions and even organized an anti-Saddam protest in Washington last October. However, he said he was upset with the President’s guest list.
“I got a ticket but turned it back,” Imam said. “There are 200 people – Iraqi freedom fighters – who were not invited in.”
Hanny Choulagh, a Chaldean electrical engineer for the city of Detroit and the president of his union, said he would have liked for Bush to have included Chaldeans in his discussions. But Choulagh said this was outweighed by his joy at Saddam Hussein’s deposition.
“Now I can go back to the country where I was born. I can visit my grandmother’s grave,” he said. “A lot of people are thinking of going back to Iraq. Maybe I’m one of them too.”