Saddam owns the Keys to Detroit

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Posted by Jeff from ( on Friday, March 28, 2003 at 0:53AM :

Saddam received key to city of Detroit in 1980

Iraqi Embassy squires Detroit pastor, other Chaldeans on a paid trip back to homeland

By Jennifer Brooks / The Detroit News

Pastor Jacob Yasso, right, of Detroit's Sacred Heart Parish traveled to Iraq to give the keys to the city of Detroit to Saddam Hussein.

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DETROIT -- Saddam Hussein has collected many things in his 24-year reign -- palaces, enemies. And the key to the city of Detroit.

"It is very strange, thinking about it now," said Pastor Jacob Yasso of Detroit's Sacred Heart Parish, who presented the key to the city, along with the compliments of then-Mayor Coleman A. Young, to the Iraqi leader in 1980. One of the mayor's staff gave Yasso the key as a courtesy to the city's Chaldean community.

"Now, you must remember that in those days, Saddam Hussein was a puppet. He was an American puppet," said Yasso, who leads the Chaldean Catholic parish on Detroit's west side.

In the 1980s, Iraq and the United States were allied in their mistrust of Iran.

Even so, Yasso was surprised by his warm welcome in Baghdad in 1980. This welcome came from the same regime that denounced Yasso for speaking out from his pulpit against the nationalization of Iraq's schools. The Iraqi embassy squired Yasso and a delegation of 25 Chaldean Catholic on an all-expenses-paid trip to the homeland to celebrate Sacred Heart's 50th anniversary.

Saddam gave Sacred Heart something else: a check for $200,000 that paid off the church's debt, with enough left over to build a parish center. "Today, we use the center to teach American citizenship classes," Yasso said.

The priest still remembers his final words to Saddam.

"'Mr. President, we would like to have our Iraq in faithful hands,' I told him," Yasso recalled. "And he told me, 'Iraq is in faithful hands.'... I would like to know why he has done this to his people."

You can reach Jennifer Brooks at (248) 647-8825 or

-- Jeff
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