Valley Iraqis were jubilant Wednesday after many spent a near-sleepless night watching television images of thousands of Baghdad residents cheering in the streets.
“I'm excited and so happy, I don't know what to do,” said 26-year-old Neda Raji of Mesa, who moved from Baghdad five years ago. “This was the dream we've been waiting for. I want to dance, I want to scream!”
About 2 p.m., an impromptu parade of 50 or so smiling Iraqi men marched down Central Avenue in Phoenix, waving U.S. flags, holding flowers and carrying signs like “We love peace” and “Dictatorship has ended after 35 years.”
The group walked from 17th Avenue and Camelback to the old Federal Courthouse, 230 S. First Ave., the site where local Iraqis previously held anti-Saddam Hussein rallies. Once there, they danced arm-in-arm and chanted slogans.
“1-2-3, 1-2-3, Iraq is free, Iraq is free!” they shouted.
Many said they wanted mostly to say “Thank you” to the United States for ridding the country of a brutal despot.
“Thanks, USA, thank the British, the Marines, everybody,” said Fadhil Allamy, 30. “Today is our day. It's something unexpected. We're really happy, really happy.”
Allamy moved from Baghdad eight years ago and lives in Phoenix. Although he supported the war against Iraq, Allamy said he had been concerned at first that thousands, or even millions, of civilians were going to be sacrificed. As it is, the civilian death toll in Iraq so far is “not that high at all,” Allamy said. When coalition forces have killed civilians, “they didn't mean it,” he said.
U.S. officials said Wednesday that difficult days may lie ahead in Iraq and work is left to be done. Certainly, no one has declared an official victory. Yet local Iraqis said it no longer matters whether Saddam is alive or dead, or whether the war will continue in some fashion in the coming weeks or months.
The dictator has lost control of Baghdad and the rest of Iraq, so it is only a matter of time before all resistance to the U.S. invasion collapses, said 24-year-old Raid Sherif.
“Iraq life just started from today,” he said, adding that he had been up all night, glued to the TV set.
Sherif, who came to Phoenix three years ago from Najaf, said he hoped to get a government job as an interpreter so he could travel to Iraq and help rebuild it.
Diaa Al-Shmiry said he thought Saddam was “finished” on Sunday, when coalition tanks rumbled into the heart of Baghdad. Al-Shmiry said he still has one request of the United States.
“Please stay to make sure the country will be OK,” he said.
At Cafe Sahara in Gilbert, where Raji works, customers got free samples of the sweet Middle Eastern treat baklava as a way to celebrate. Raji phoned her parents in Baghdad just before the March 19 airstrike that kicked off the war, but has not been able to contact them since. She feels they are doing fine, she said.
Watching images of thousands of Iraqis stomp on icons of Saddam, it is hard to feel anything but elation, she said.
“They are not scared anymore,” she said.