Behind the camera: Various Internal Media Organizations
Where: Baghdad’s Firdus Square, directly in front of the Palestine Hotel where the world’s journalists had been quartered.
Photo Summary: Crowd of people celebrating the destruction of Saddam’s Statue
Picture Taken: April 9, 2003
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 the 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 were trying to pull down the statue and only later were they helped by the American military. It was later revealed that rather than an Iraqi inspired event it was a stage-managed American plan from a psychological operations team. The location of the 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 were 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 what seemed to be a large crowd of people in civilian clothing but looking at wide shots 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 were 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 were 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
Saddam has gone, and we have one thousand Saddams now, … It wasn’t like this under Saddam. There was a system. There were ways. We didn’t like him, but he was better than those people. Saddam never executed people without a reason. He was as solid as a wall. There was no corruption or looting, it was safe. You could be safe.”
When asked what would he do if he meets Tony Blair, he responded, “I would say to him you are a criminal, and I’d spit in his face.”