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Last Updated: Friday, 9 April, 2004, 00:21 GMT 01:21 UK
The day Saddam's statue fell
Paul Wood
The BBC's Middle East correspondent

Paul Wood was in Paradise Square when Iraq's most famous statue of Saddam Hussein came crashing down. He remembers what it was like and analyses the furious debate still raging over how the event was portrayed.

It was the single image which came to define the war: the huge bronze statue of Saddam pitching forward and falling from its plinth as a roar went up from crowd.

Saddam statue falls
Like many iconic images, the depiction of Saddam's fall is bitterly contested
The hollow, metal dictator hadn't even come to rest before dozens of Iraqis leapt on it: screaming, stamping, cursing, crying, laughing, hitting, remembering, grieving and rejoicing.

"Traitor, liar, infidel, thief, coward," they shouted: insults which would have got them all killed only the day before came out in a torrent.

Like many iconic images, the image of Saddam's fall is bitterly contested.

Was it staged?

Was it American "propaganda by deed", or the spontaneous act of a free people?

Why was the US flag placed over Saddam's face?

Why did so few people come out to celebrate?

Was this the moment of liberation, or the beginning of occupation?

Cameras close to the statue, in the melee, captured the intensity of feeling and projected it around the world.

The wide shot from those on the roof of the Palestine hotel, 150 metres away, seemed to show Paradise Square almost empty.

It is true that the crowd was just a few hundred strong. Some see this as an early sign of Iraqi ambivalence towards the Americans.

But mainly, I think, people were still scared. Most Iraqis didn't learn until the following day that the war had ended.


White bed sheets flapped from the windows of the Sheraton hotel. No one knew then if the last few hundred metres of Baghdad still nominally under Saddam's control would fall peacefully.

The first sledgehammer blows were being struck at Saddam's plinth by a little group of scarcely half a dozen young Iraqis while US Marines were still crouching by their armoured vehicles and warily sweeping their M16 rifles left and right.

That same small group of Iraqis then started to climb up onto the statue, to try and pull it down with their bare hands. They draped a makeshift noose around Saddam's neck.

The knees of the statue bent and Saddam was at 90 degrees, then on the ground

Onlookers murmured: "We'll be doing this for real soon."

Saddam remained stubbornly unyielding. That was when the Marines brought up an armoured vehicle with a winch.

It was, though, the Iraqis who had taken the initiative, calling on US military muscle to finish the job of toppling Saddam.


By then a few more people had begun to come out. A little girl stretched up her arm to touch one of the Marines.

A small boy sat on his father's shoulders to get a better view.

I shook hands with a Marine who had a dandelion flower in his combat webbing, a gift from a grateful Iraqi.

Then one of the Americans climbed up to drape the US flag over the top of the statue. The focus of the whole square became the small triangle of white stars and red stripes masking Saddam's face.
Saddam Statue falls
US troops were accused of triumphalism

The next day, the Arab media reacted with fury about American "triumphal-ism".

The flag had been in the Pentagon on 11 September 2001. So there were conspiracy theories about how the flag had been carefully brought to Paradise Square by the White House.

But to the Marines, this was just a fitting end to three weeks of hard, dangerous slog up from Kuwait.

An Iraqi flag was quickly found to replace the Stars and Stripes. For people I spoke to in the crowd, the presence of the two flags seemed a natural gesture of partnership.


The Marines' armoured winch took the strain. There was a grinding of gears and for an awful second it seemed as if the armoured vehicle, not Saddam, would buckle.

Then the knees of the statue bent and Saddam was at 90 degrees, then on the ground.

"Down, down, Saddam," said one man, frenziedly interrupting my piece to camera so we should see him use his shoe to repeatedly strike the face of the statue, which had come down a few moments earlier.
Saddam Statue falls
A year ago in Paradise Square, there were hints of problems to come

Another man grabbed the satellite phone out of my hand to shout to the live studio in London that he had been a political prisoner for ten years.

"Thank you, America, thank you," he said. Others just bellowed: "Saddam finished" or "Saddam donkey".

End of an era

It was hard to maintain journalistic objectivity in those circumstances. It was impossible not to get swept up in the overwhelming joy of a newly free people.

Saddam's 25 year death grip over Iraq had been broken; the suffocating sense of fear had been lifted.

In conversations later that evening, there were the first hints of the troubles the Americans are now facing in Iraq.

In remarkably similar terms one man, a Sunni, and another, a Shia, both thanked the US for getting rid of Saddam, but warned the Americans not to stay too long.

But in the crowd that afternoon, there was another roar of celebration as Saddam's head was broken clean off.

It was wrapped in chains and dragged towards me. I scrambled to get the BBC's expensive satellite phone antennae out of the way. Saddam's head missed it by an inch.

Iraq has turned out to be more complicated than the Americans ever thought. But the final glimpse I had of Saddam's statue was a simple, clear and unambiguous image of the new freedoms Iraqis were enjoying.

Saddam's head was scraping and bouncing across the tarmac of Saddoun Street, dragged in chains by four of five men.

A small boy was bending double to strike it with his shoe every step of the way. Then they all disappeared from sight.


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