Detroit’s Iraqi Don Done With Prison Stint, Comes Home To Motor City After 20 Years

America’s only Iraqi Godfather, Lou Akrawi, one of the Detroit underworld’s most complex and intriguing figures of all-time, walked free this past weekend after 20 years in prison on a second-degree murder conviction. Akrawi, 68, was equal parts passionate political activist, beloved community leader and feared crime boss in his heyday of the 1970s, 1980s and the first half of the 1990s (Detroit has the largest community of Middle-Easterners in America). The fiery, broad-shouldered and barrel-chested Akrawi was found guilty of manslaughter in 1996 for the accidental death of Michael Cogburn, killed in September 1993 as he stood in line with a gallon of milk at the Fiesta Market, struck by stray bullets intended for the store’s owner.

Akrawi has expressed his desire to turn over a new leaf and turn away from his previous life of crime. A one-time restaurateur and renowned cook, he’s told those close to him he intends on opening up an eatery of some kind in the near future.

At the time of the 1993 shooting, Akrawi’s regime was under siege by a renegade faction of his organization of which the store owner was alleged to belong to. The afternoon before Cogburn’s tragic death, Akrawi survived an assassination attempt (one of several near brushes with death in his life), avoiding being hit in a drive by shooting that occurred outside a coffee shop he was known to frequent. The evening prior to the shooting, his co-defendant and nephew’s house was sprayed with gunfire – another one of his nephews was shot in the buttocks as a result of the attack. Prosecutors believe Akrawi middlemen hired the gunmen in the Fiesta Market shooting. No triggerman was ever convicted in the case.

Akrawi was originally paroled five years ago, but had his parole rescinded five days following his release when the Michigan Department of Corrections decided to retrieve him after mistakenly believing he was destined for deportation back to Bagdad (it had literally been decades since the MDOC had rescinded anyone’s parole). As a young man in Bagdad in the 1960s, the notoriously strong-willed Akrawi was a member of Iraq’s Communist Party, a political faction in fierce opposition to Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party. Upon the Baathists taking power in 1968, he was on the frontlines of an unsuccessful Communist Party coup and assassination attempt targeting Hussein in the months that followed.

Fleeing his homeland and a sworn blood vendetta issued against him and his family by Hussein, Akrawi landed in Detroit, Michigan, a growing enclave of Middle-Eastern immigrants, specifically non-Muslim, Christian Iraqis like Akrawi. Christian Iraqis are called Chaldeans (pronounced CAL-DEE-IN).

Akrawi’s brother-in-law was held captive and tortured by Hussein-dispatched goons, eventually dying from the injuries sustained. By the late 1970s, Akrawi was simultaneously the leading anti-Hussein activist in North America, a trusted neighborhood head of state of sorts in Northwest Detroit and the reputed Godfather and founder of the so-called Chaldean mafia based around 7 Mile Road and Woodward Avenue in an area known as “Little Bagdad.” He averted at least two assassination attempts at the hands of Baath Party hit men sent personally by Hussein to kill him while he was living in the United States, one informant told INS in 1994.

The U.S. supported Hussein and the Baath Party in Iraq until the Gulf War in the early 1990s. According to INS documents, when U.S. military forces seized Bagdad in 2003 and raided Hussein’s main presidential palace, a video cassette tape containing surveillance footage of Akrawi heading anti-Hussein rallies in Michigan taken by Baath Party operatives was discovered in one of Hussein’s viewing rooms. Hussein was executed in 2006 for war crimes.