Some Iraq-Ohioans cheer crumbling regime

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 10, 2003

As symbols of Saddam Hussein's reign came crashing down, Iraq natives Nezar and Bushra Rahim could not contain their jubilation.

Along with several family members, they put Iraqi and American flags side by side at the curb of the street outside their home in Moreland Hills, a Cleveland suburb, and celebrated right there.

''We're going to Baghdad next week!'' they all clapped and laughed, although all knew they were still a long way from going home.

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News of collapsing opposition to U.S. troops in Baghdad, coupled with television broadcasts of Iraqis dancing in the streets Wednesday, inspired Iraqis in Ohio, as elsewhere.

The Rahims had left Iraq in fear or loathing of the Saddam regime.

Nezar Rahim, 69, a doctor who is a kidney specialist at Cleveland's St. Michael Hospital, was amazed at the war's developments.

''I saw on the TV the statues of Hussein being pulled down. That was very thrilling to me,'' the doctor said. ''We hate to see more killing. Any death is bad. We are happy, hopeful there will be no more deaths and hopeful Iraq will be coming to a nice time, will be peaceful, will be prosperous.''

Bushra Rahim, playing with her 1-year-old grandson, said her sister was killed by Saddam's secret police in 1980.

The Rahims' niece, Seba Rahim, arrived from Iraq two months ago for medical treatment for her 10-month-old son. A building destroyed in Monday's bombing was near her home. She has not heard from her husband or another young son since.

''I am happy that Saddam is gone, but the most important thing, I want to see my family all alive,'' she said.

Ithaar Derweesh, who hasn't been able to sleep more than three hours a night since the war started, said he woke up early to ''the adrenaline rush of watching history unfold,'' seeing television images of people throwing flowers at American tanks, waving flags and removing symbols of Saddam's regime.

''It's beautiful,'' said Derweesh, 32, a Cleveland surgeon whose family left Iraq when he was 9 years old. ''I cried tears of joy.''

Yousif Shikwana, owner of Lagrange Food Center in Toledo, has three sisters in northern Iraq and one in Baghdad.

''It's a great day, a very happy day in my life. All Iraqi people, we were waiting for this day for 35 years. Thank God, thank British and American forces, they did this for the Iraqi people,'' he said.

Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said cautious optimism is in order.

''The Iraqi people can finally see the light at the end of the long tunnel of Saddam Hussein's oppression,'' he said, adding that the war is not over and American troops are not out of danger.

The next task is to build Iraq's future, he said.

''Its length, difficulty or expense shouldn't be underestimated,'' he said. ''The goal of building a free and democratic Iraq, free from weapons of mass destruction and a will to threaten its neighbors and the world, is worth the sacrifice.''