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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 9 April, 2003, 21:08 GMT 22:08 UK
When fear gave way to jubilation

By Rageh Omaar
BBC correspondent in Baghdad

This was the moment when all the cruel years of Saddam Hussein were ended by the sheer rage of ordinary Iraqis.

US Marines in Baghdad
US forces roll through the streets of the Iraqi capital

I've been covering Iraq for six years and even after the war started I never had the image in my minds eye of what it would be like the moment I came across American soldiers in Baghdad.

But now they're here it leaves you almost speechless.

This was how the end of an era began. The American Marines rolled into the deserted streets of an Iraqi capital that will never be the same again.

Armed to the teeth and with little opposition, they began to take control. Word began to spread slowly.

As the Marines began to move deeper into the city, Iraqis began to shed the fear of decades.

They used to chant for Saddam, now they pledged their loyalty to George W Bush.

Then the big push began. The roaring sound of tank engines resounding around the city streets.

Iraqi citizen sits astride Saddam statue
A chance for Iraqis to vent their anger

They drove past the government buildings that had been smashed by three weeks of air strikes.

As they did so more and more Iraqis began to greet them. It was looking like a conquering army entering an open city.

They'd arrived and they wanted Iraq and the rest of the world to know.

They came right to our front door, the hotel where western journalists had reported the war from.

The ultimate humiliation

More and more Iraqis were gathering to greet the Americans. For them, the darkness of the last twenty years under Saddam was crumbling.

They wanted to bring it all to an end and tear down the statue of the dictator.

Some Iraqi men tried to use a sledgehammer at the base of the statue to try and bring it down.

The American flag was put on the head of the statue, like a hood. There was a huge applause.

I turned to one of my Iraqi friends and he said he wouldn't forget this moment for the rest of his life. It was the ultimate humiliation.

But then the flag was taken down, it may have been felt it was a little too much.

An American armoured personnel carrier drove up to the statue to help bring it down by putting a wire around it's neck.

And when it came crashing down, the crowd jumped up on it, smashing it to pieces and chanting. Some of them were in floods of tears

This was how regime change was going to be defined today. It was a breathtaking image.

Whether Saddam's dead or alive hardly seems relevant anymore. His rule and control have gone.

This day has been more than about the Americans taking control.

It's much more about the end of Saddam, and the end of his government, and the end of a quarter of a century of rule in which people lived in fear.



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