American Reporter Staff
Los Angeles, Calif.
BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 9, 2003 -- Cheering crowds filled the streets of central Baghdad Wednesday as a Marine tank crew helped Iraqis tear down a huge cast-iron statue of Saddam Hussein and saw them drag the dictator's bullet-riddled symbolic head down a broad central avenue while his former subjects kicked and spat on it.
The fall of Baghdad thus resembled that of dozens of other cities during the long, slow collapse of the Soviet Union when public statuary of a fallen regime became symbolic of a new dawn of democracy.
For Iraq, the Interim Iraqi Authority will take the place for now of the Hussein government while U.S. allied and United Nations experts work to forge a democratic system in the place of the one deposed.
Even as President Bush and his senior advisors, including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that battles for key oil-rich cities including Kirkuk and Mosul continue in the north, the situation in Baghdad remains chaotic and pockets of resistance have been met within the city.
Baghdad University was the scene of intense fighting Wednesday between coalition forces and Iraqi irregulars, many of them civilian-clad members of the once-elite Republican Guard, whose 400,000 troops are quickly melting into the general population.
But without question, the day spelled the long-awaited end of Saddam Hussein's regime.
In its wake, Secretary Rumsfeld met a barrage of questions about the administration's "concern" that top Iraqi officials have been slipping into Syria as they flee the thundering collapse of the Hussein era. There is no certainty that the officials are in Syria, Rumsfeld indicated when asked whether their flight was a fact based on U.S. intelligence or a "concern" based on less reliable reports.
"It is a 'concern," Rumsfeld replied.
The defense secretary appeared with Gen. Myers at the Pentagon shortly before White House press secretary Ari Fleischer convened a media briefing at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The President's spokesman reiterated much of the caution of the two defense officials, leading one network commentator to dub Washington a "no gloat zone." He said President Bush had watched the toppling of the Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad and exporessed pleasure over its fall.
It appears unlikely that victory will be declared before Saddam's birthplace, Tikrik, and Iraq's oil fields near Mosul and Kirkuk are under uncontested coalition control.
For hundreds of millions of viewers throughout the world, though, as network executives sensed as one after the another they broke into daytime programming for several hours to carry live CNN coverage of Baghdad's fall and the statue's destruction, the climactic moment of the Iraqi War had arrived. A smiling correspondent for the Arabic-language Al-Jazeera television network apologetically interviewed a noncom Marine and asked, "Why was it so easy?"
The CNN reports included a news "crawl" at the bottom of the screen that said observers in Washington "gasped" as a soldier up on the statue placed an American flag over Saddam's face. The flag was removed before it could touch the ground in the company of Saddam's head.
That image was said to have infuriated viewers in the Middle East as it seemed to convey that the United States was taking direct control of Iraq. There is some debate over whether that has in fact occurred, but the symbolic gesture of the soldier will have lasting resonance.
The geopolitical map of the Middle East had changed within the 10 to 20 minutes it had taken to topple the huge statue of Saddam, his arm raised in a salute that soon began a long slow arc to the ground.
Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey and Kuwait had suddenly acquired a new next-door neighbor: the United States of America, dba Iraq. How they will accommodate that unlikely twist of fate is uncertain, but it is clear they will have to; the allied presence in Iraq and our succeeding diplomatic ties are likely to endure for decades. Iraq is in the center of the circle formed by those countries and shares thousands of miles of border with them.
Meanwhile, the former Iraqi's regime's 122 billion barrels of oil and its current output of 2.5 million barrels a day are under the more or less direct control of a defiant, aggressive, two-fisted oilman from Texas, President George W. Bush, and the former head of one of the world's largest oil resource exploitation firms, Vice-President Dick Cheney. Ironically, only a democratic presidential election can loosen their grip.