Skip to comments.Victory in the 21-Day War
Posted on 04/09/2003 7:52:40 PM PDT by Arkinsaw
Victory in the 21-day war
By Stephen Farrell in Baghdad
YANKEE bastard, yelled the young British peacenik at the first American tank to roll up to the Palestine Hotel. Go home. She picked a man who had waited for 576 days to give his answer. Marine First Lieutenant Tim McLaughlin leant from the turret of his Abrams tank nickamed Satans Right Hand and screamed back: I was at the Pentagon September 11. My co-workers died. I dont give a f***.
Lieutenant McLaughlin had with him a Stars and Stripes that he had been given at the Pentagon that fateful day. In Baghdads Paradise Square, he handed the flag to Corporal Edward Chin, who climbed a giant statue of Saddam and draped it over the deposed dictators head.
It was there only briefly; the gesture raised hardly a cheer from the gathering crowd and a black, white and red Iraqi flag quickly replaced it as a scarf around the statues neck. That, too, was removed to make way for the winch that would bring down the hated figure.
Lieutenant McLaughlins battalion was in the vanguard yesterday when the US 1st Marine Division rolled up to the east bank of the Tigris in central Baghdad, marking the moment when Saddams regime effectively came to an end.
It was a momentous day, reminiscent of the fall of the Berlin Wall and with it the communist empire in 1989. And no image of it will be more enduring than the toppling of that 20ft Saddam statue by a US tank egged on by a cheering, excited mob which then stamped with undisguised glee on the fallen idol.
Seldom in history has a city almost the size of London fallen. As resistance in Saddams capital crumbled, and the leaders of a collapsing regime folded their tents and crept away, the US Defence Secretary condemned Saddam to a place alongside Hitler, Stalin, Lenin and Ceausescu in the pantheon of failed, brutal dictators.
Celebrating local people said the regimes enforcers the militias, security apparatus and Baath party loyalists had quietly melted away. A city that went to sleep under a tottering regime awoke in a power vacuum.
And the people knew it. No one lives under the arbitrary imposition of power for four decades without developing acutely honed antennae for authority, and when it disappears the oppressed need no news bulletin or headline to tell them. The absence of burning oil fires, of checkpoints, of Republican Guard; the field artillery pieces abandoned under flyovers, the empty sandbag positions all told the tale.
Within hours Saddam City, a poor suburb heavily populated by Iraqs downtrodden Shia majority, had exploded into a festival of looting.
As our car sped east to document the ransacking, delighted Shias waved joyously as they walked, drove and rode in the opposite direction, their vehicles loaded with microwaves, rifles, calculators, car batteries, food, oil and cigarettes. Suddenly shoulders were things to carry booty on, not to look over.
Yesterday The Times saw looting by car, looting by ponytrap, looting by bicycle, looting by makeshift sled. One man even pressed an office swivel chair into service to haul away a television. Another youth liberated the barrel of a heavy machinegun from a local police station without even knowing what it was. I want it for my home, he said, proudly.
The looting was accompanied by the first expression of political opposition in Baghdad for decades. The Baath party headquarters of Saddam City a prime candidate for the likely rash of renamings over the coming days had been ransacked and other buildings torched. Posters of Saddam were torn or defaced, one with the name of the Prophets son-in-law Imam Ali, a symbolic leader for the countrys Shia majority.
This in itself is a salutary warning for incoming Americans: a people oppressed for years under Saddams Sunni Tikrit elite are unlikely to be fobbed off with formulations about a new system comprising elements of democracy.
Whether the American heirarchy has the sophistication to appreciate this remains to be seen. More at least, one hopes, than the Marine who arrived in the centre of town yesterday morning with the immortal words: Which city is this? Crucially, the question everyone around him asked was: Where is Saddam? Have we got rid of the criminal? Tell us. When, when are we going to get rid of him? Help us to find a solution, entreated one elderly man before returning to the criminal business of the day.
With feelings running high, many Iraqi minders who until yesterday had to accompany foreign journalists everywhere were too afraid to venture on to the streets. Others read the runes more quickly. Do we still need a guide? one colleague asked our driver. No, khallas (finished) he grinned.
Do we take the TV off our car because of the looters, or leave it on to stop the Americans shooting us? I asked. Its s*** both ways, grunted one photographer.
Shrugging, I took out the empty lemon juice carton in which my banned Thuraya satellite phone was hidden, ripped apart the bottom resealed with candle wax, and put it in my flak jacket pocket.
By noon, American soldiers had reached Canal Hotel, the UN headquarters abandoned by the weapons inspectors last month. The Marines simply walked into town, encoutering occasional sniper fire, and sat arond the huge compound. Most waved. One was strumming his guitar, his feet up.
People have been great. They were really nice to us, bringing us food. Its supposed to be the other way around, but it was a little bit of both, grinned Sergeant Pilar Beltran. He had fought his way up from Kuwait through al-Nasiriyah and Highway 7 before reaching the capital early yesterday. Its been easy so far today, very little resistance. Its kind of hard to distinguish who is civilian and Iraqi military. Every battlefield you go to you find Iraqi uniforms on the floor. What they do is fight, take off their uniforms and change over, he said.
As he spoke, he watched looters openly carrying away fridges, microwaves and rice. Frontline soldiers do not see their role as enforcers of law and order. But the precedent is an unfortunate one to set: the single greatest fear of most Iraqis yesterday was a breakdown of law and order and banditry from renegades arming themselves with the millions of Kalashnikovs and small guns littering the country.
Across town, however, a Marines tank division had other priorities. At 3.10pm four Abrams tanks passed The Times car heading for the dead centre of town, fanning out across highway junctions as Humvees screamed to a halt and scanned the streets ahead as they waited for the main column to catch up.
Two guys in front, see, see, shouted Corporal Kenneth Hicks, 21, from Eufaula, Alabama, staring through his binoculars at a red estate car.
Got it, came the gunners reply. Light car. Red car. Red Shaggy wagon.
Scooby Doos, man. You never seen Scooby Doo?
Around them, Iraqis clapped and cheered but at a safe distance as the pumped-up Americans reacted with extreme prejudice to anyone getting too close, too soon. A burst of machinegun fire at a car driving straight at the lead Humvee, and everyone jumped still further back.
Heroes, heroes the Americans, beamed one young man.
Older heads took a more measured stance. If they just came to liberate us, then a thousand thanks. But if they are coming for something else, well, we are a Muslim country . . . he tailed off.
All agreed. They realised the regime was absolutely finished only when they saw the column of Abrams approaching from the South.
The final, symbolic moment was the jubilant scene in Paradise Square when a Marine Hercules tank tower looped its thick cable around the metal statue of a waving Saddam Hussein, and toppled it to the cheers of Iraqis, who then stamped on the head of the President they had cheered to the echo only hours before.
Watching from the sidelines, Lieutenant McLaughlin took his Stars and Stripes out of a sealed pouch, so that it could be wrapped around the statues hollow metal head.
The 25-year-old Russian language and poetry graduate explained later that a broken leg had taken him to room 5E678 at the Pentagon, where he was working as a generals aide on September 11, 2001.
I had just gone for my morning run and I was right at the Jefferson Memorial when the plane hit the Pentagon. I sprinted back because my older brother also works there. After I searched for him and found he was all right I spent the rest of the day at Ground Zero, helping out the ambulance and firefighting guys.
In the days following tha,t I had to determine what to do after my leg healed, so the general offered me this job. He said I wouldnt be going to Afghanistan because it was too soon but after that I would get a chance to go and . . He searches for a euphemism . . . stop people doing harm.
He continues: I know Iraq didnt have anything to do with September 11, but I think that, given the opportunity, a person like Saddam Hussein would certainly be capable of trying to hit London or Paris or New York.
This flag was given to me on September 11. Now it is in Baghdad and now I am happy.
Was that the shrill little retard who was screaming at the Marines and holding up some pictures for them to look at this morning? (while the Iraqis held the sign that read "Go Home Human Shields")
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This flag was given to me on September 11. Now it is in Baghdad and now I am happy.
And so, dear Leiutenant McLaughlin, are millions of us! Happy! Seeing you put that flag on the madman's statue! Even for those few moments! We here in America (and many around the world) shared your joy! God bless you!