Firdos Square statue destruction
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In the afternoon of April 9, 2003, a group of Iraqi civilians started to attack the statue. One such futile attempt by sledgehammer wielding weightlifter Kadhem Sharif particularly caught media attention. Shortly after, an advance unit of the United States Marine Corps arrived at Firdos Square, secured the area and made contact with the foreign journalists who had been quartered in the Palestine Hotel at the square. After a couple of hours the US Marines toppled the statue with a M88 armored recovery vehicle.
According to the book Shooter, the first plan was to attach a cable between the M88 and the statue's torso area. Someone pointed out that if the cable snapped, it might whiplash and kill people. The alternate method chosen was to wrap a chain around the neck. Eventually, the M88 was able to topple the statue which was jumped and stomped upon by Iraqi citizens who then decapitated the statue and dragged it through the streets of the city hitting it with their shoes. The destruction of the statue was shown live on cable news networks as it happened and made the front pages of newspapers and covers of magazines all over the world – symbolizing the fall of the Hussein government. The images of the statue destruction provided a clear refutation of Information Minister Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf's reports that Iraq had been winning the war.
Before the statue was toppled, Marine Corporal Edward Chin of 1st Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Division (attached to 3rd Battalion 4th Marines) climbed the ladder and placed a U.S. flag over the statue's face. According to the book "Shooter", by Coughlin, Kuhlman, and Davis, other Marines of the 3/4 realized the PR disaster unfolding as the formerly cheering crowd became silent, with one woman shouting at the marines to remove the flag. Kuhlman had appropriated an Iraqi flag as a war trophy during a raid earlier in the war, and quickly unfurled it and headed for the statue. The crowd grabbed this flag and then placed it over the statue.
The event was widely publicized, but allegations that it had been staged were soon published. One picture from the event, published in the London Evening Standard, was Photoshopped to suggest a larger crowd. A report by the Los Angeles Times stated it was an unnamed Marine colonel, not Iraqi civilians who had decided to topple the statue; and that a quick-thinking Army psychological operations team then used loudspeakers to encourage Iraqi civilians to assist and made it all appear spontaneous and Iraqi-inspired. According to Tim Brown at Globalsecurity.org: "It was not completely stage-managed from Washington, DC but it was not exactly a spontaneous Iraqi operation."
Kadhim Sharif Hassan Al-Jabbouri said in 2016 that he regrets playing a part in the destruction of the statue and wants it replaced. Kadhim used to repair the motorcycles of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein before falling out of favour and being jailed for a year and a half and says that 14–15 members of his family were killed by the Ba'athist regime. When the Americans reached the outskirts of Baghdad, he got a sledgehammer to aid in toppling the statue. After the Americans arrived in the square, they put an American flag over the face of the statue, but Kadhim "couldn't accept this" and insisted they use an Iraqi flag, which he gave them.
Khadhim says that after the invasion, "[things] started to get worse every year. There was infighting, corruption, killing, looting. Saddam has gone, but now in his place we have 1,000 Saddams. I feel like Iraq has been stolen from us. Bush and Blair are definitely liars. They destroyed Iraq and took us back to zero and took us back to the Middle Ages or earlier. If I was a criminal I would kill them with my bare hands."
He subsequently said "when I go past that statue, I feel pain and shame. I ask myself, why did I topple this statue. I'd like to put it back up, to rebuild it. I'd put it back up but I'm afraid I would be killed."
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