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Out There News

Saddam topples into Baghdad dust

World watches as Saddam topples into Baghdad dust

By Paul Eedle in Baghdad, Financial Times
Published: Apr 10, 2003 

The towering bronze statue of Saddam Hussein - like his regime - did not fall without a struggle.

A rope failed to pull him down. But once US soldiers had thrown a steel hawser round his neck and hooked it to their hulking armoured vehicle, I saw him topple and then finally crash to the ground in a cloud of dust.

Dozens of cheering Iraqis, delirious with sudden, unaccustomed freedom, surged forward to dance on the wreckage of their ruler.

They beat him with rubbish and with their shoes in a show of contempt that hours earlier would have cost them their lives.

It was not the first image of Saddam to be destroyed in Baghdad yesterday, but destruction of his statue in the centre of his capital - in full view of television cameras - was the moment the world saw that a regime that had held the Iraqi people in its grip for three decades had finally crumbled.

Washington and London were careful to caution that this was not yet the end of the war.

But Mohammed al-Douri, Iraq's UN Ambassador, said in New York: "The game is over. Let peace prevail." Asked what he meant, he replied: "The war is over. My hope now is peace for everybody."

The jubilation in Baghdad was just what President George W. Bush and Tony Blair had craved during the 21 days of the conflict.

The blast of artillery had woken me at dawn in Baghdad's neurosurgery hospital, where surgeons had operated on a friend injured the day before by a US tank shell.

In the next bed a terribly wounded boy of 10 or 11 lay unconscious, probably dying. He had been brought in by people who said his family had been killed by US shells. Nobody knew his name. But the mile-long drive to the Palestine hotel overlooking the Tigris revealed signs of the transformation to come. I saw only two armed men. Baghdad's defenders, the motley array of soldiers, Ba'ath party militia and secret police, had melted away.

People had heard about looting and shooting, and they were frightened. "There's no security," said a man by a greengrocer's shop. "Are the Americans going to bring security? Are they going to stop the robbing and looting?"

We found the looters a mile away, carrying away everything they could from two United Nations buildings. One man was dragging a desk piled with two computers and a leather chair along the road.

In the afternoon, we ventured out once more to look for the Americans. At a roundabout, a colleague shouted that he had seen a tank. Suddenly it roared out of the road to our left. We raised our hands and walked slowly forward, our driver holding a white scarf on a stick.

The tank's flat turret swivelled, pointing its gun at us, then at our car, then back at us. Another tank and then two amphibious troop carriers clanked into view.

I saw troops in desert camouflage walking along the side of the road and a small group of Iraqis on the far side of the roundabout waving and cheering.

We went up to the Iraqis. When had the militiamen and fighters disappeared? "Two days ago!" they all yelled with glee.

When did they believe that the government of Saddam Hussein had fallen? "When we saw the tanks, when we saw them with our own eyes," they shouted.

An old man wanted to talk. Had the war been necessary? "With this fellow, yes," he said quietly. "If you said anything against Saddam Hussein, he would cut off your head and the heads of all your family."

The joy was real. But there are many, many questions ahead. "If they have come to liberate us, fine," said one man. "But if they have come for other reasons - no. We are a Muslim country."