Ari Alani, an Iraqi Kurd, wishes he could say thank you to U.S. and British troops nonstop.

"I don't know how to say it enough times," he said today as more than 50 Iraqi Kurds gathered at a park in this south Denver suburb to show appreciation for the campaign that toppled Saddam Hussein.

"To fight for others is very nice, and it's not normal that people would do this," Alani said.

Kurdish women in colorful saris and gold necklaces linked arms to dance. Men in hand-woven moccasins and balloon pants made from fine wool sipped coffee. Plates of rice mixed with nuts and beans, bowls of hummus and bags of pita bread covered a picnic bench.

"We feel freedom now for the first time in my life," said 51-year-old Mahdi Salih, who fled to the United States in 1996. "All our lives we were in dark times because of Saddam."

Alani came the same year. He and his wife, Sazan, tried to flee attacks by the Iraqi government in 1996; they were separated, and he escaped but she did not.

She remains in their home village of Sulaymaniyah near the Iraq-Iran border, but he expects her to join him soon. Alani passed the U.S. citizenship exam in February and is awaiting results of a background check.

Layla Aziz, who fled northern Iraq in 1997 and came to Colorado, said she wants to return for a visit and might stay if a democratic government emerges. Her parents and sisters are still there.

"We were worried when the war started but now we are so happy because they got rid of Saddam. They're free now," she said.

Sulafa Adhim, an Arab Iraqi from Baghdad, wants to reach out to families of Marines killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"I would like to thank all the mothers," Adhim said.