Twelve years after Casey Mahbuba and Emad Al-Kasid fled Iraq and settled in Dearborn, Mich. (search), they had the pleasure of watching from afar as Saddam Hussein's government fell.
Now they say it's time for them and hundreds of other Iraqi expatriates (search) to leave their comfortable life in the U.S. and go home to rebuild their country.
"We want to rebuild Iraq to be the crown of the Middle East, the diamond of the Middle East. We have the opportunity and the ability to be the most developed country there, both economically and socially," he said.
Youth Reunion Vice President Emad Al-Kasid also feels it's his duty to return to his homeland and participate in the slow process of establishing a democracy.
"It's very important," said Al-Kasid, 30. "That country gave me a lot. I have to give back."
The Iraqi Youth Union holds regular meetings and works closely with the Pentagon and other organizations to plan how best to reconstruct Iraq. Members are listed in a database and communicate via e-mail between meetings.
The biggest challenge, Mahbuba said, lies in how quickly the U.S. can help Iraqis form their own democratic government.
"If they do it in the right time, everything will be perfect," he said. "We hope they help Iraqis to establish an interim government as soon as possible."
He estimates that the interim government will be around for 18 months to two years before it's replaced by an election-based system. Iraq has the potential to be a great nation, he said.
"We have the natural resources to make it a wealthy country in the region," said Mahbuba. "We have the location; we have the educated people."
Like many Iraqi expats, Mahbuba and Al-Kasid left their country in 1991 after the first Gulf War and the Iraqi uprising against Saddam.
The April 9, 2003, fall of the dictator's regime, Mahbuba said, "was the day we were waiting for."
"It was a long, long nightmare," Mahbuba said. "Sometimes I don't believe it yet – I don't believe Saddam is gone. We're not only happy, we think we are born again."
Al-Kasid and his family spent years in a refugee camp after they escaped Iraq before eventually moving to the U.S. He believes that he and his people have been rescued by America because of its decision to overthrow Saddam.
"I was saved by the United States; Arab countries refused to help," Al-Kasid said. "That's why I'm going back to my country, to practice the democracy I learned in the United States."
Both men say creating a new media network is one of the top priorities "to explain the benefit of Western democracy and the importance of the relationship between the U.S. and Iraq," according to Mahbuba.
"We need the media to be open," said Al-Kasid. "Our people believe the Arab media. They don't see other media down there. We are going to clear up the mess."
Al-Kasid said he wants to go back to Iraq so he can interpret Western ideologies for his people.
"I could translate the culture, the freedom, the democracy," he said. "I want to give them the real picture. They will trust us more than somebody else because we're Iraqis. They can accept our word."
In addition to teaching democracy and Western ideals to Iraqis and convincing them not to be afraid to voice their opinions, Al-Kasid said he and other expatriates should concentrate on establishing a steady supply of food, medicine and other humanitarian aid.
Only once the new mindset, media and aid distribution system are firmly in place can the democratic government be created, he said. He'd like to participate in forming that new leadership.
"We are the future of the government," said Al-Kasid.
For now, he and Mahbuba are waiting for the call from the Pentagon to authorize them and their fellow expatriates to return home.
"I would love to be there right now," Al-Kasid said. "I am worried about my own people. I want to take them from the level they are now to a higher level, a level of freedom and democracy."