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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 9 April, 2003, 16:21 GMT 17:21 UK
'Rolling victory' after rolling war

Paul Reynolds
BBC News Online world affairs correspondent

There has not been one moment of victory - or defeat - in Iraq but a new type of rolling victory.

Event followed event -- presidential palaces were taken, military formations conquered or capitulated. Basra was captured. Baghdad could not be long behind.

US tank enters Baghdad
US tanks were cheered as they pushed into central Baghdad
But if you had to choose a symbolic moment, it would have to be when an US Marine Corps armoured recovery vehicle, at the urging of local people, toppled a giant statue of Saddam Hussein outside the Palestine Hotel.

It was a perfectly choreographed event, right outside the hotel where the international media is based, a meeting of media and military.

Live cameras were on hand. The crowd was suitably enthusiastic; the marines suitably confident.

Matching moments

It will come to match symbolic moments in other revolutions and wars.

In Vietnam, when North Vietnamese tanks smashed through the gates of the presidential palace in Saigon.

In Romania, when Nicolai Ceausescu and his wife were shot by a firing squad and the pictures shown on television.

In East Germany, when the Berlin Wall was breached.

In orderly Prague when the names of the new, non-communist government were read out by Vaclav Havel to a huge crowd in Wenceslas Square.

In Serbia, it was when the people stormed the parliament to celebrate the end of another strongman.

In Iraq it has been different. There have been many signs of the end. It has been cumulative. And now it has happened.


Presidential Palaces

Earlier, there had been not one presidential palace moment, including of course the obligatory image of gold plated taps, but two - in Basra as well as Baghdad.

But then Saddam Hussein had so many palaces. There was one I recall in northern Iraq which journalists "liberated" after the Gulf War of 1991. We thought that Saddam Hussein was all over then. He wasn't.

This time fighting went on even after the palaces were occupied.

The signs of collapse

So what other signs told us that regime change was taking effect?

  • The disappearance of Saddam Hussein was one. Is he alive or is he dead? His confirmed death or capture would be a huge moment. But even if we don't know, if he can't be seen, he has in effect lost control.
  • Radio and TV went off the air in Baghdad. That in itself is usually a symbol of regime change. BBC Monitoring learned of many a coup when martial music started blaring out from some remote capital.
  • The non-appearance of the great Iraqi spin doctor Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf. One wonders how he would explain away what has now happened. Perhaps his aim all along was not truth but defiance.
  • The freedom of foreign journalists on the Iraqi side to move about. The Iraqi minders have been a well-organised part of the regime. Their failure to turn up to work on Wedenesday was telling. It suggested a policy of sauve qui peut - every man for himself.
  • Dancing in the streets. Iraq has introduced a new concept - mass looting as an act of public approval and looting of government buildings in particular.

Heady moments of change

It is a phenomenon of such moments of change that there is a heady but short period in which the bonds of the old are loosened before the bonds of the new are tied.

All across Eastern Europe after the fall of communism there was such a feeling. It came out in different ways. In Iraq, looting is the thing.

Looting however is first cousin to lynching and that is a serious risk.

Sadly, another sign has been the overwhelming of Baghdad hospitals as the fighting entered the urban areas and the civilians suffered.

And of course, armed resistance has collapsed. Military analysts will be studying for years the non-appearance of the Republican Guard, the vanishing Iraqi army, the lack of organised urban guerrilla warfare. Perhaps shock and awe had their effect after all.

Historian John Keegan, Defence Editor of the Daily Telegraph, concluded that there had not been a war at all as Iraq had not put up a fight.

Work to be done

Yet work remains to be done for the American and British forces. Inevitably there will be talk of a "last stand" in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's home town north of Baghdad. It hardly seems likely that any such stand would last for long.

And there is still northern Iraq to be dealt with. This by itself could trigger problems if Turkey decides that the Kurds have gained too much ground.

So victory will have to roll on for a bit longer.

Then the problems of restoring order and government begin.

The BBC's Jane Hughes
"The US have now entered Baghdad from several directions"

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