'Baghdad's Firdus Square, directly in front of the Palestine Hotel where the world's journalists had been quartered.
Behind the Camera:
Various Internal Media Organizations
Crowd of people celebrating the destruction of Saddam's Statue.
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Censored Images of War (part 5)
The 2003 invasion of Iraq, code named “Operation Iraqi Freedom” by the United States, officially began on March 20, 2003. The stated objective of the invasion was “to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people”. As American forces streamed across the border most of the world thought that Saddam’s regime would quickly collapse but as the weeks past America’s invasion looked to be stalled. The Iraqi Information Minister, Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf (M.S.S.) ran a successful propaganda program claiming that American forces were being defeated and pushed back. Even as the American forces entered Baghdad M.S.S. asserted that the Iraqis were winning, “The infidels are committing suicide by the hundreds on the gates of Baghdad … As our leader Saddam Hussein said, ‘God is grilling their stomachs in hell.’” Even though his reports were denied by American forces there was a feeling especially in Arab world that Iraq was putting up more fight than what was expected and maybe even winning. These views were dashed when the now famous footage of American forces entering Baghdad’s Firdus Square and then began pulling down a huge statue of Saddam without any kind of Iraqi resistance.
The event was initially broadcast as a spontaneous show of Iraqi joy at the overthrow of the Saddam regime. It was at first reported that Iraqi civilians where trying to pull down the statue and only later were they helped by American military. It was later revealed that rather than an Iraqi inspired event it was stage managed American plan from a psychological operations team. The location of statue in Baghdad’s Firdus Square, directly in front of the Palestine Hotel where the world’s journalists had been quartered made the statue the perfect target. The army wouldn’t have to ship journalists anywhere as they where already on location. An internal military study determined that it was a fast thinking Marine colonel who planned the operation. The square was closed off and his team used loudspeakers to get Iraqi civilians to come out a help.
The footage from that day seemed to show huge crowds and many media reports compared it to the fall of the Berlin wall. The footage was shot mostly via close up camera’s near the statue that filmed a what seemed to be a large crowd of people in civilian clothing but looking at wide shoots of the scene you can see that the large square was largely deserted except for a small crowd around the statue. Analysts would lament that, “What you saw on television looked like there was throngs of thousands and in reality, it was just a few dozen people.” It was also unclear where the crowd came from with reports that they where bused in from anti-Saddam slums in Sadr City or anti-Saddam Iraqi National Congress military forces flown in from outside Iraq. Al jazeera reporters in the movie Control Room seemed to back the theory of the crowd coming from outside Iraq as they remarked that people from the crowd didn’t seem to speak Arabic with Iraqi accents.
The 12-metre tall Statue was one of Iraq’s newest Sculptures erected in honor of Saddam Hussein’s 65th birthday in April of 2002. In May of 2003 a group of Iraqi artists raised a new statue where Saddam used to stand. The Iraqi artists describe, “the new sculpture is seven metres (23 feet) high and shows a symbolic Iraqi family holding aloft a crescent moon and a sun.”
The Main Players
Five Years On: The man who toppled Saddam – 09 Apr 08
Marine Corporal Edward Chin of the 3rd battalion 4th Marines regiment, a 23 year old ethnic Chinese who moved to New York when he was one, was the solider who scaled the statue to put the chain around the neck of the giant Saddam. He also attached the American flag, and then climbed back up to replace it with an Iraqi one. “At the moment, I was just doing what I was told to do by my commanding officer,” Corporal Chin said. “I had to get the job done just like we’ve been doing out here in Iraq.”
Kadhem Sharif was the huge sledgehammer wielding strongman who was filmed trying to smash the base of the statue. He had a hot and cold relationship with the Saddam Family as a world-class wrestler and weightlifter he frequently felt the wraith of Saddam’s son, Uday, and was even put in jail after the team did poorly. He designed a huge expensive weightlifting gym for Uday and saw first hand how Uday would abuse steroids. He is convinced Uday’s excessive use of steroids drove him insane. A mechanic, he had a falling out with Uday after a disagreement when he refused to fix Uday’s collection of motor bikes. He was promptly arrested and spent several years in jail on trumped up charges. Famous around Baghdad for his collection of bikes in 2004 he was arrested for trying to sell looted motorcycles. In 2008 for an interview with Al Jazeera he stated that due to the harsh and violent years of American occupation it was a joyful day that he doesn’t want to remember now.
Ali Fares and Khaled Hamid where some of the men who put the initial rope around the statues neck.”We asked the Americans to bring us this rope with a noose. I climbed the ladder myself. To begin with, I was scared, but when I climbed the ladder, the Iraqis started clapping, even the American soldiers. I heard them saying nice things about me. I couldn’t reach Saddam’s head, but by that time there was no fear. I was sure we’d got rid of him.”
Marine Lieutenant Tim McLaughlin was the solider who provided the first American flag. The flag was had been in the Pentagon on 11 September 2001 and was given to Kuhlman by a friend. He kept it carefully wrapped in a box on the bottom of his tank and tried to raise it two times before. The first time he was forced to retreat after taking shots from a sniper and the second time the flag pole broke. As they stood around the statue his company commander, Captain Bryan Lewis asked for the flag to put on the statue. McLaughlin still has the flag that he keeps wrapped up on his book shelf.
Marine Lieutenant Casey Kuhlman claims that he provided the second pre-1991 Iraqi flag. When the first flag went up the crowd started to turn ugly. He remembers that people started shouting and woman correspondent for a Middle Eastern television company started begging for them to take it down. Seeing the need for action he quickly brought out the Iraqi flag and passed it through the crowd. Where strongman Kadhem Sharif claims to have taken it to the marines on the crane.