Fallen Idols 

18 August 2003 tbs.pm/1914

Saddam Hussein

It was, without a doubt, one of those news moments. An occasion where the world looked on as the pictures were beamed across the globe. A sight that will be remembered by those who watched it. The live broadcast around the world of a statue of Saddam Hussein being brought crashing to the ground.

I was working in a U-shaped office at the time. Each side of the room had three televisions at various points, suspended from the ceiling, with a seventh at the end. Normally they’re showing a variety of things from the British terrestrial stations, to rolling news channels like Sky News and CNN, or even a strange foreign station.

That afternoon they were all tuned to BBC News 24. Well, all but the seventh TV at the end of the room, which was oddly showing CITV.

The news had been on in the office throughout the Iraq conflict, usually with the sound muted. Occasionally something would catch one of our eyes and we’d turn the sound up whilst we worked, but always it was background material.

Wednesday 9 April was slightly different. That lunchtime the world watched as American tanks rolled into the centre of Iraq, next to the hotel where the world’s press was located.

The day’s news coverage had been very different to that previously – pictures of people looting, and journalists making the most of the fact that their Iraqi ‘minders’ had disappeared. Where they went to, who knows? Many would add to that, who cares?

To the western eye, one rather surreal shot of someone grinning as he carried what looked like a large portrait of Saddam Hussein, stripped of its frame, occasionally being hit by a shoe. Then someone ran up, and took a flying leap at it. It was a piece of footage that was hardly off screen that morning.

But as the tanks rolled in, the whole war seemed to take a rather surreal view, and as I got back to work, but my eyes were quickly turned again.

And slowly but surely Iraqi citizens came to the streets, throwing shoes at the giant statue of Saddam standing tall over the centre – a huge insult in that part of the world.

As I watched the pictures being shown, people were seen climbing onto the statue. A rather scraggly piece of rope was trying to be tied around it. They managed to get it, noose like, around the neck of the statue. An amazing sight – the Iraqi people present were preparing to hang their president.

The rope was too short. Once tied, it didn’t even make it to the ground, and to us in the office watching, it seemed woefully inadequate for the task it was being asked to do – nowhere near strong enough for the task.

It may have not been up to the job, but it made the intent clear. This statue wasn’t going to remain in its present location.

Slowly but surely we witnessed an ever-increasing crowd. And an American armoured personal carrier was moved into position. The sentence was to be enacted.

What followed were more comical scenes as a cable was tied to the base of the statue. This was later removed – the marines presumably deciding that if it snapped, there could be a lot of trouble – and instead an army crane, presumably on the same vehicle, was used to attach heavy chains around the neck of Saddam.

One marine wrapped Saddam’s face in the Stars and Stripes. Whilst Rageh Omaar on the scene told us this was greeted with cheers by many in the crowd, in the office was despair, people shouting at the screen in disbelief that a US marine could be that stupid. It was quickly removed, replaced temporarily by an old Iraqi flag.

And then, by now some time after it had all started, time for the statue to come down. We could see the marines moving people back, the chains being tensed. The first signs of wobbling as the cables were tensed. And it came down.

You could feel the gasps as it dangled almost upside down, but still attached to its podium. A brief pause and then it came fully down, dragged briefly on the floor, as those present leapt on the statue, dancing on the dead ‘body’. Later the decapitated head was seen being dragged along the streets.

Even as a bystander watching it all happen, it seemed deeply moving and filled with symbolism.

Quite why tyrannical dictators feel the need to stick huge statues of themselves everywhere (in an almost Big Brother style) we may never know, but as they come crashing down, the viewing becomes almost addictive. It’s probable that the edited footage of these events will become on par with that of the Berlin War being ripped apart, or of statues of former leaders in the USSR being attacked as communism fell apart.

And yet again, the events saw the world glued to its television screens, as yet another big news story unfolded before their eyes.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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Liverpool, Friday 14 June 2024