The guy kept his pants down: how the statue fell and Saddam Hussein’s regime

The regime of saddam hussein fell as we continued to worry about a war that had ended. Or just started, as we later found out. Were 4:30 p.m. on April 9, 2003 when a column of Abrams tanks appeared from the sadoun avenue from the neighborhood of karada. There was nothing to fight or release anymore. Iraqi soldiers and some foreign militiamen who were in the area had left before noon. Some 200 or 300 young boys and some adult men, residents of this central neighborhood, had come out on the avenue to shout “Aloyak abusi… aloyak abusi” (it’s gone, it’s gone). Some even dared to enter a government office, took what they could and destroyed the rest. The same thing was happening throughout the city. Some shots and sporadic explosions were still heard, but they seemed more like desperate acts from which they were fleeing than fighting.

We, the correspondents who had been confined within the abandoned palestinian hotel, we also feel liberated the moment we start listening to people on the street. We had spent the last few hours locked in that building. The chaos was total. bullets were blowing from every corner. And we were very beaten. The day before, an American tank had fired on the 14th, 15th and 16th floors of the hotel, killing the cameraman. Jose Couso of Telecinco of Spain already Taras ProciukUkrainian photographer from Reuters. Two other colleagues suffered considerable injuries. We couldn’t trust anyone.

The Abrams tanks and the assault cars left the avenue, surrounded the roundabout and positioned themselves on Firdos square, in front of Palestine. The hotel is a tome from the early eighties, then run by the French chain Meridien, with 21 floors and 400 rooms. There we journalists had been confined by order of the Saddamist Ministry of Information. We were about 200, all rigorously watched by spies and regime officials who occupied the rest of the hotel. The hotel thing is euphemistic. Then It had been twenty days since anyone came to do the rooms or serve breakfast.. Of course, there were some officials at the reception who they persecuted us with the daily payment of the stay.

Fallen statue of Saddam, Iraq 2003.
US Marines enter downtown Baghdad on April 9, 2003, with the statue of Saddam still standing.

When they saw the tanks, a few more neighbors dared to come out. some shouted “USES! USES!”, but they were quickly silenced by others who said “Pull, pull, pull” (was over). One appeared with Argentina national team jersey. There was also the barsa and of the real Madrid. State television put everyone to sleep with the games it stole from international satellites. In the cafes they recited the Argentine formation by heart: batistote, Vfvferrón, crispus. When they got to Marrradona, they brought out a smile as if they had read aloud all of Don Quixote. She now watched the parade and broadcast it live for miter radio, TN and dozens of other radio stations and channels that got hooked on in Latin America. When I saw the light blue and white, my voice faltered and I was clearing my throat for a while.

A column of marines descended from the humvies and took up position at another hotel, the Ishtar (former Sheraton), across the street. They had been there until noon foreign mujahideen. Most had not fired a shot. The Saddamist army did not deliver weapons as promised. I met one of them an Algerian who had lived five years in Spain. He asked me to help him hide it. He was barefoot. He had taken off his boots because he was afraid that the American soldiers would recognize him and shoot him. He left with the others towards the south of the city. It is likely that a few days later he was already hooked up with one of the many groups that started the civil war.

A rare ceremony took place in the hotel lobby. had entered Lieutenant Colonel Bryan McCoy, the commander of the Third Marine Battalion that had taken the square. One of the hotel’s Sadamists welcomed him and offered him a Turkish coffee. McCoy turned him down and asked for a sevenup, which was taken with the fruition of a boy. A man approached him, shook his hand, and said in good English: “Welcome. We have been waiting for you since 1991 (when the Americans refused to liberate Iraq after the Gulf War and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, unleashing a harsh crackdown on the Shiites) We would have liked to see them earlier”. “Yes, it was a long journey”was McCoy’s laconic response.

Fall of the statue of Saddam, Iraq 2003.
Corporal Edward Chin placing the American flag over the face of the Saddam statue. A minute and a half later he traded it in for an Iraqi flag.

One of the boys in the square told me that many of his friends did not dare to go out because they believed that the same thing was going to happen in 1991, when the Shiites took to the streets to demand the end of Saddam’s minority Sunni regime. and they ended up murdered en masse. “Besides,” he tells me, “They call from all sides saying that there are armed gangs assaulting everything”. Widespread looting had broken out. What was left of the government ministries and offices was being taken away on the roofs of cars and even in carts pulled by donkeys. the building of Olympic committeein front of the bridge Al Jumhuriyafrom where the gunmen of Udai Hussein, one of the dictator’s sons, was burning and the column of smoke could be seen 20 blocks away. The offices of the United Nations. People ran out with computers and even ceiling fans in hand. A Portuguese television team was trapped on another of the bridges that cross the Tigris River and was forced to hand over everything they had on them, the cameras and even the truck in which they were traveling. It was an excellent cover for escape.

the square of firdos (paradise), there a few meters from the tigris river which splits Baghdad in two, had become the epicenter of the entry of the Americans. It is where the largest number of people gathered that day. A boy climbed on the statue of Saddam that stood in the center of the square, he took off his flip-flop and began to hit the bronze figure. At that moment, a beefy, muscular guy appeared who I later learned was called Kadhim al-Jabbouri. She had seen him in passing in his mechanical workshop, there a few meters from the square. She brought a mace and began to pound on the marble plinth. Baghdad was full of statues of Saddam, on horseback, in a little boat, always pointing to nothing. This had been placed a few months earlier, in homage to the dictator’s 65th birthday. Another guy brought a rope and the guy in the flip-flop climbed almost 50 feet to put it around the statue’s neck.. A few began to pull the rope, then there were about 20, but the monument did not move. Kadhim had barely managed to make a small hole in the marble. It was when everyone looked at the marines and particularly at a tank crane, the Hercules M-88which was at the end of the row of military vehicles.

I interviewed Kadhim on another trip to Baghdad two years later. He told me his story. He had had a golden age because he repaired motorcycles for Saddam’s sons who had an extensive collection of the best. Someone went with tales and fell out of favor. He spent almost a year in jail. He had left shortly before the day he went out with a mass to tear down Saddam’s statue. But now he was sorry. “It’s not that I want those people back, but what the Americans brought is even worse. They left us a civil war and misery”he told me six years before the 2011 Marine evacuation.

Fall of the Saddam statue.  Iraq 2003.
The most widespread image of the fall of the statue of Saddam Hussein in 2003. The marines had cleared the center of the square so that the crane could bring it down.

Then, Reuters he was already broadcasting live from the venue. A fixed camera showed from the Palestine the whole show that was taking place in Firdos. The historic moment had gone global. All the centers of power and the newsrooms were watching what was happening and were asking the correspondents present for live accounts. People jumped and sang “Wow maiajkun ade Saddam!” (Saddam has fallen). A few women joined. They were Shiites, covered in a black chador. One of them was handing out margaritas. They would be from her house. She had never seen a flower stand in Baghdad before.

Kadhim asked a journalist to tell the driver of the Hercules M-88 if I helped him knock down the statue. Leon Lambert, a 16-year veteran of the Marines, was the tow truck man. He was considered something of a tank wizard, the most experienced mechanic in the unit. He handled the crane skillfully and had no problem doing it, but he needed to ask his superior. He captain lewis he was in charge of the tank unit. In turn, he communicated with Lieutenant Colonel Bryan McCoy. “Yes, do it, but with discretion”, was the answer. There had already been other collapses of symbols of the regime. In Basra, the second largest city in the country, a unit of Englishmen threw down a statue of Saddam on horseback. A journalist photographed the moment, but it had not aroused any further attention. A tank also fired at a tile mural with Hussein’s face and the scene was taken by a cameraman from the FOX who repeated it over and over again in the previous days. But neither did it become one of those historical moments summarized in an image.

The huge crane went up to the square breaking everything in its path. Tiles and flower beds were crushed. Lambert raised the tower until he reached Saddam’s bronze neck. He Corporal Edward Chin he prepared to climb the ladder and attach a chain to bring down the statue. It was when she appeared 2nd Lt. Tim McLauglin with an American flag in hand. He had received her at a ceremony in Congress in Washington for her heroism during the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon. It was of extraordinary symbolism. A confidential report from an investigative commission that I read a few years later assures that none of this was prepared, that it was absolutely spontaneous. When McLauglin was interviewed for the New YorkerHe also swore that he had not received any order and that he had even wanted to raise that flag twice before, in the south, and that he had not been able to do so due to the virulence of the fighting.

Fall of the Saddam statue.  Iraq 2003.
Gustavo Sierra, then correspondent for Clarín, in Firdos square, on April 9, 2003, a moment before the fall of the Saddam statue.

Corporal Chin climbed up, chained, and covered Saddam’s face with the flag. The image of “the Iwo Jima of the desert” was around the universe. It was a screenshot, barely a minute or a minute and a half, but it was seen all over the world. He Lieutenant Casey Kuhlmanwho was at the foot of the crane, realized that something was wrong. “We could not appear as the conquerors. We had to be the liberators, nothing more”, later he explained for the same note of the New Yorker. He asked a man at the scene for the Iraqi flag and ordered a soldier to hand it over to Chin. The corporal changed it by looking down in surprise. His first action had expressed the truth, the second was the clearest exponent of political correctness.

In the Pentagon they had also realized the impropriety. He General James Mattis, immediately called Lieutenant Colonel McCoy. When he managed to communicate with the head of the unit, in the square, everything had already been corrected. A “recklessness” of a minute and a half. At that moment, shots stopped everything for several seconds. Three Marines ran toward a corner building. Someone said that he was a sniper. No injuries were seen. “One who is feasting”, was the explanation of another man about that very Arab custom of shooting into the air as a sign of joy. That same night, in that same place, a fight was recorded. The Marines fired heavy machine gun fire from the turret of an Abrams. You could see the tracings of the bullets in the direction of the gas station on the corner. We saw it sheltered, waiting for a terrible explosion. It didn’t happen. a Muslim miracle.

With the right flag on his head, the statue of Saddam began to fall amid the cries of joy from the people. His body came off his legs and revealed two iron braces that held him up. The structure moved a few inches forward, then back. Then it gave way and leaned to 45 degrees. With a second pull on the crane, it snapped in two. On one side, the body remained, on the other, the legs. “The uncle is with the canvases down”, a Spanish correspondent told me between laughs. The dictatorship fell dismembered. People rushed over the body of the statue. Many took off their flip flops and hit him in the face. A very special affront in the Arab world. Showing the sole of your shoes to someone is already insulting. Throwing a shoe is a curse. The then president knew George W. Bush when a few months later he dodged a flying shoe from a man disguised as a journalist, during a press conference.

Fall of the Saddam statue.  Iraq 2003.
The bronze structure of the statue of Saddam already detached from the pedestal and about to fall in the Firdus square.

In the middle of the crowd I saw Jon Sistiagathe correspondent of Telecinco from Spain. He finished the story of him live, closed the Turaya (the brand of a satellite phone) and began to cry helplessly. The morning before I had (we had) lost his friend and cameraman with a thousand notes, Jose Couso. “What a fucking man, what a fucking. We only needed 24 more hours. With 24 hours, José saw all this and lived. Twenty four hours…”, Jon said and we hugged crying. When I recovered, I saw that next to us there was another man tearing up as he stared at the statue that now had about 20 boys dancing on top of it. “I’m very excited,” he told me. “This one’s thugs murdered my entire family… How I wish they were seeing the same thing I was!”

It is time for the last prayer and the imam of the mosque across the square, who had tortured us with his cries of “Allah-u-Akbar!” (God is great), reproduced by the loudspeakers hanging from the minarets, every time a shelling began, now whispered with an almost imperceptible volume. He sergeant plesch, led by a Humviee who also had loudspeakers and an Arabic translator, asked people to stop for a moment. Most ignored him. They began to pray. They bowed and knelt. They forgot the Saddam statue for a few minutes. It had been a gesture from Plesich, a man who, I later learned, belonged to the Intelligence division of the Marines. But he did not convince the imam, a huge guy with a long beard and a baleful look. I went to see him two days later and he was very angry because the soldiers had closed the street in front of the square and that had left him without followers. “I am going to denounce them through the loudspeakers”, I make sure.

The greatest example and surprise of what the liberation of a people can mean was given to me by the “camel” Yasser. A huge and warm 28-year-old boy trained as an lyrical singer. Until a few months before I sang at night in the restaurant of the Ishtar hotel, while continuing his studies with a great Lebanese teacher. With the closure of the restaurant and the arrival of the correspondents, he became a driver. His wife was seven months pregnant with twins. A friend of his father’s offered him to drive a big, old impala – perfect for taking four correspondents with his equipment and going largely unnoticed. The owner of the car he charged us $150 a day and gave Yasser just $5. We adopt it. He became our best local friend. Even later he became independent and made good dinars as a producer of the magazine’s office. Time in Baghdad.

Fall of the Saddam statue.  Iraq 2003.
A group of Iraqis hugging an American soldier in Firdos Square. Many would regret welcoming the invaders in later years.

Yasser, who lived with us in the hotel throughout the war, he never came across as a saddamist, but he never said a single word against him either. Although the terror he had of the agents of the regime was clearly noticeable. The drivers were threatened with death by officials from the Ministry of Information. They were forbidden to take us to unauthorized places. I remember forcing him to drive us to the airport in the city where a heavy battle was going on and that he was sweating like a buffalo all the way. He told us that they could be spying on him and they would report him.

When we returned from the plaza, I found him crying like a four-year-old boy and he hugged me madly with happiness. “I didn’t believe them. You told me, but I didn’t believe you. I never thought they would arrive. In 1991 they were here, a few kilometers away, and they didn’t come, they left us in the hands of Saddam”he told me between tears. And at that moment he told me what he had been hiding since we met him. His father, a very prestigious doctor, he had been imprisoned three times for his opposition to the regime. And he had grown up with the imposition of silence. The father did not want his son to suffer the same and had made him swear that he would never say anything to strangers outside of official speech. Yasser is the example of millions of Iraqis who lived 30 years under terror. But that afternoon “the camel” broke free. And she began to tell that she had a particular hatred for Saddam’s children because they could do and say what they wanted without fear of anything. He also told me that now he would have another problem. He was sure that his father would oppose the US occupation.

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