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Saddam Reportedly Given Key To Detroit

Iraq President Funded Local Chaldean Church In 1980

POSTED: 8:17 a.m. EST March 26, 2003
UPDATED: 10:00 a.m. EST March 26, 2003

DETROIT -- Years before Saddam Hussein became an enemy to the United States, he was reportedly seen as a friend and made an honorary Detroit citizen.

In 1980 when Saddam was on good terms with the United States, he gave money to fund the Sacred Heart Chaldean Church in Detroit, Local 4 reported. The Rev. Jacob Yasso said he will never forget Saddam's offer when he asked about the church's debt.

"He said, 'How much is it?' I said, '$170,000,'" Yasso said about his conversation with Saddam. "Then he replied, 'We will pay it off for you.'"

Saddam turned to his secretary-general and gave the church $200,000, Yasso said. The money reportedly helped build the Chaldean Center of America located on Seven Mile Road next to the Sacred Heart Chaldean Church, which received an earlier Saddam gift of $250,000, the station reported.

More Iraqi money reportedly went to other churches around Detroit and around the country.

Yasso has photographs of the 1980 meeting in Baghdad inside the presidential palace. At the time of the meeting, Saddam was reportedly seen as more of a friend than a foe. He was a man who could check the spread of extremism in neighboring Iran, the station reported.

"He's a different person," Yasso said. "Why? Ask his conscience. Because what he did to the country ... three wars ... Iran, Kuwait and now."

The Chaldean Center houses the church offices, a Chaldean cultural museum and a school that teaches English. Many people who fled Iraq to start a new life in the United States reportedly now benefit from the place he helped build.

Saddam Hussein Meeting

Yasso reportedly took criticism for accepting the gift years ago, but said it came with no strings attached and he has no regrets.

"I could do something for the history. Build something for the people," Yasso said.

Among Yasso's photographs of the 1980 meeting is an ironic event.

"I said, 'Mr. President, I have a gift from the mayor of Detroit for you. The key of the city of Detroit. Offiically you are an honorary citizen of Detroit,'" Yasso said.

To the relief of Yasso and the city, Saddam never used the key, Local 4 reported.

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