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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, July 5, 2004

U.S. military, not Iraqis, behind toppling of statue

By David Zucchino
Los Angeles Times

The U.S. Army's internal study of the war in Iraq criticizes some efforts by its own psychological operations (PSYOP) units, but one spur-of-the-moment effort last year produced the most memorable image of the invasion.

While the April 9, 2003, toppling of a statue of Saddam in Firdos Square in Baghdad seemed from TV images to be the spontaneous work of joyous Iraqis, a new report indicates U.S. Marines initiated the work and an Army psychological operations unit encouraged the civilians to participate.

Associated Press library photo

As the Iraqi regime was collapsing on April 9, 2003, U.S. Marines converged on Firdos Square in central Baghdad, site of an enormous statue of Saddam Hussein. It was a Marine colonel — not joyous Iraqi civilians, as was widely assumed from the TV images — who decided to topple the statue, the Army report said. And it was a quick-thinking Army PSYOP team that made it appear to be a spontaneous Iraqi undertaking.

After the colonel — who was not named in the report — selected the statue as a "target of opportunity," the PSYOP team used loudspeakers to encourage Iraqi civilians to assist, according to an account by a PSYOP team member.

But Marines had draped an American flag over the statue's face. "God bless them, but we were thinking from PSYOP school that this was just bad news," the PSYOP member wrote in the report. "We didn't want to look like an occupation force, and some of the Iraqis were saying, 'No, we want an Iraqi flag!' "

Someone produced an Iraqi flag, and a PSYOP sergeant quickly replaced the American flag. Ultimately, a Marine recovery vehicle toppled the statue with a chain, but the effort appeared to be Iraqi-inspired because the PSYOP team had managed to pack the vehicle with cheering Iraqi children.