Iraqi brothers hope execution brings peace

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Qasim Al-Ganzawy is a hulking man. At well over six feet and north of 250 pounds, he was formerly a heavyweight boxing champion in his native Iraq.

And he remembers shaking in fear in the presence of another man only once -- when he met Saddam Hussein.

In 1984, Al-Ganzawy went to Baghdad to accept congratulations on winning the heavyweight title in a Middle Eastern competition.

Al-Ganzawy, now 37 and living in Cape Girardeau, said shaking the dictator's hand was like meeting the devil.

"He was evil. I felt so sorry for myself when I was doing it, because I knew I was shaking a bad guy's hand. I was shaking and scared just to meet him," he said.

Al-Ganzawy now works at the Citgo station at 1700 Broadway in Cape Girardeau. He is far removed from quivering at the sight of Hussein but said watching the images of the dictator's death Saturday morning brought it all back.

Hussein was executed by hanging late Friday, Central time, after being found guilty of crimes against humanity by the Iraqi High Tribunal. The tribunal of Iraqi judges was established to investigate and prosecute war crimes of the leaders of Hussein's ruling Baathist Party.

Al-Ganzawy celebrated Saturday morning and called his mother in Iraq to share the joy at what he calls the end of tyranny.

"Today is a holiday. We are thankful, I want to say thank you to the American soldiers and to President Bush for taking down Saddam Hussein," he said.

Qasim's brother, Satar, 42, who works at Fountainbleau Lodge in Cape Girardeau, agrees that Saddam Hussein's execution was a long time coming.

"This is a happy day. This is a joyous day. We are all celebrating," Satar Al-Ganzawy said through a translator.

"People were very scared of Saddam," he said. "If Saddam delivered a speech on national television, the streets would be empty. If you were caught out working or playing in the streets during his speech, you would disappear. They would kill you for that."

Qasim Al-Ganzawy said that fear tore families apart.

"Even around your brother, you don't want to say his name. You don't even speak it because they say in Iraq the walls have ears," he said.

Both men were part of a resistance group in Samawa that tried to undermine Hussein's dictatorship. They recall gunfights in the streets with Baathist soldiers after the Gulf War in 1991.

"We tried to fight back, to overthrow the government, but when we fought with machine guns, Saddam would come back with helicopters," Qasim said.

Later that year, the men fled to Saudi Arabia in the back of a pickup truck. Nine months after leaving Iraq, they were granted asylum in the United States. They say after they left home, harsh interrogation techniques used by the Iraqi secret police in Samawa led to their father dying of a heart attack.

Neither expressed any immediate wish to return to Iraq, but both hoped the execution of the dictator would lead to peace.

"Saddam is dead and he deserves that, so now I hope there will be peace in Iraq because the man who started the bad things is gone. The Sunnis, now they can stop detonating explosives on the streets because they know there is no chance their leader will return," Satar Al-Ganzawy said.

"I believe peace will come."

tgreaney@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 245

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