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Last Updated: Friday, 9 April, 2004, 14:39 GMT 15:39 UK
No celebrations in Baghdad square

By Richard Lister
BBC correspondent in Baghdad

A US soldier removes posters of Moqtada Sadr from a statue in Firdus Square
A US soldier removes posters of Moqtada Sadr in Firdus Square
What a difference a year makes. On 9 April 2003, Firdus (Paradise) Square was abuzz with excited Iraqis determined to pull down a vast bronze statue of their dictator.

With American help, the giant bronze edifice was pulled to the ground and the troops looked on as the jubilant crowd beat Saddam's statue with their shoes.

It looked and sounded like liberation.

But 9 April 2004 and the square is empty.

The statue has been replaced by a modern sculpture plastered with pictures of the radical young cleric Moqtada Sadr, leader of the Shia militants.

The small park around the statue is untended and choked with litter.

There are no celebrations here - quite the reverse in fact.

There is barbed wire rolled out across every road leading into it, and American troops with Bradley fighting vehicles are on patrol.

A Humvee circles what is normally one of the busiest roundabouts in the city, its tannoy blaring.

"This is now a military zone," says the message. "Everyone is to stay away".

Competing tannoys

I got into the square as the Americans were bringing in reinforcements - including a fire engine equipped with a water cannon.

A car turned into one of the barricaded streets leading from the square, almost immediately one of the soldiers fired a warning shot over it.

Saddam statue falls on 9 April 2003
The toppling of Saddam's statue was the defining image of the war
The driver got the message and turned around.

The tannoy on a mosque near the square is competing with the military loudspeakers.

The message echoing off buildings across this part of town is that 9 April should not have been declared a public holiday, but a day of shame.

The Americans, says the voice, are in Iraq for its oil.

On some streets, leaflets are being distributed which say foreigners should be attacked and kidnapped.

Graphic images

This day, 9 April, was never going to be easy to get through for a people tired of occupation.

But the tensions have been made worse by the most intensive fighting since President Bush declared an end to major hostilities in May last year.

In places like Falluja, Nasiriya, Kut, Najaf and Baghdad too, the hostilities have continued and hundreds of Iraqis have died.

In the first eight days of April some 40 coalition troops were killed as well - more than the monthly total for most months since Baghdad fell.

Hundreds of thousands of satellite dishes have flooded into Iraq in the past year, together with new televisions, cars and mobile phones.

People here have a better idea about what is happening in their country than ever before.

As they see the graphic images of the dead and injured in battles across the country, they grow more and more angry.

Much depends on where you are, but moderate Iraqi opinion in Baghdad seems to be as frustrated with the Iraqi militants, as with the coalition troops.

Most people I have spoken to simply want a secure environment to be able to get on with their lives.

May be they will have that by 9 April next year, but no-one is counting on it.


WATCH AND LISTEN
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