‘Saddam has gone, and we have one thousand Saddams now’

Jeremy Bowen reports: Many people I have spoken to have already made up their minds about the impact of the invasion on Iraq. One of these is Kadhim al-Jabbouri, a man who became a symbol of the Iraqi peoples’ rejection and hatred of Saddam Hussein.

On 9 April 2003, the American spearhead reached central Baghdad. Hours before they arrived, Kadhim, who was a champion weightlifter, decided to bring down the big bronze statue of Saddam Hussein that stood on a plinth in Firdous Square.

Kadhim owned a popular motorcycle shop and was a Harley-Davidson expert. For a while he fixed Saddam’s bikes, but after the regime executed 14 members of his family he refused any more work. The regime’s response to his effrontery was to put him in jail for two years on trumped-up charges.

Kadhim is a survivor. In prison, he started a gym and a weight-lifting club, and was eventually released in one of Saddam’s periodic amnesties.

But on the morning of 9 April, Kadhim wanted his own personal moment of liberation and revenge. He took his sledgehammer and began to swing it at the plinth beneath the towering bronze dictator.

Journalists came out of the Palestine Hotel on the square and started broadcasting and taking pictures. Kadhim says their presence protected him from Saddam’s secret policemen, who melted away as the sound of American guns came closer.

When the Americans arrived they looped a steel cable round the bronze Saddam’s head and used a winch to help Kadhim finish the job. It all happened live on international TV. The image of furious and delighted Iraqis slapping the fallen statue with their shoes went around the world.

Kadhim said his story was told to President George W Bush in the Oval Office. But he now wishes he had left his sledgehammer at home.

Kadhim, like many Iraqis, blames the invaders for starting a chain of events that destroyed the country. He longs for the certainties and stability of Saddam’s time.

First, he says, he realised it was not going to be liberation, but occupation. Then he hated the corruption, mismanagement and violence in the new Iraq. Most of all he despises Iraq’s new leaders.

“Saddam has gone, and we have one thousand Saddams now,” he says. “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.” [Continue reading…]

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