Toppling the Statue

The real story behind Saddam's statue

From Staff Sergeant Brian Plesich, team leader, Tactical Psychological Operations Team 1153, 305th Psychological Operations Company :

We woke up that morning [of 9 April] in the Iraqi Special Forces training compound on the outskirts of southern Baghdad. Attached to 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment (of I MEF), who were conducting a clearing operation on the southern approach to Baghdad, [we were] moving with their TAC at the time. We were kept in a centralized location while moving so that we could be flexed to where we might be needed. We were not sure what we were going to hit, but we were expecting a lot of resistance. The infantry unit was to be clearing door to door, while we would be broadcasting civilian noninterference messages and occasional surrender appeals when pockets of enemy forces were located. The infantry unit started its operation but was encountering no resistance at all. After a few hours of going door to door, kicking doors and entering, looking for enemy concentrations and weapons caches but finding none, they modified their plan and formed up into a column and started a general movement toward Al-Firdos (paradise) Square in [eastern] Baghdad, where the Palestine Hotel and statue [of Saddam Hussein] were located. The entire movement went a lot faster than anyone had anticipated....

Crowds of Iraqi citizens started coming out and cheering the American convoy. We started to do some PSYOP broadcasts about bringing about a free Iraq, but knowing that we were to continue some clearing operations; we were telling them to stay away from our military vehicles for their own safety. We eventually dismounted from our vehicle and continued to inform the civilians to stay back from the military vehicles. The Iraqi civilians were very receptive to us, and [we] continued to engage them with our interpreter.

As we approached the street leading into the Al-Firdos Square, we could tell that there was a very large crowd of civilians starting to form up. It looked like the infantry unit up there could use some support, so we moved our [tactical PSYOP team] TPT vehicle forward and started to run around seeing what they needed us to do to facilitate their mission.... There was a large media circus at this location (I guess the Palestine Hotel was a media center at the time), almost as many reporters as there were Iraqis, as the hotel was right adjacent to the Al-Firdos Square.

The Marine Corps colonel in the area saw the Saddam statue as a target of opportunity and decided that the statue must come down. Since we were right there, we chimed in with some loudspeaker support to let the Iraqis know what it was we were attempting to do. The reporters were completely surrounding the vehicle, and we started having to ask the reporters to move out of the way, but they would not move. We were getting frustrated, but we were also laughing about it. We dismounted the vehicle again and just started pushing the people out of the way. They were starting to really inhibit our ability to conduct our mission. The tanks . . . formed up into a perimeter around the square, with the statue in the middle.

An M88 recovery vehicle approached the statue and continued to drive up the steps right next to the statue in an attempt to bring it down. The people had already tied a noose around the neck of the statue with some rope. They were trying to just tug on it and bring it down and were hitting it with sledgehammers; it was clearly getting crazy in the square. We were no longer in crowd control, as there was just no controlling this crowd at this time. We decided to just ride along with the crowd, and we started just kind of celebrating with the Iraqi people. We actually had to have our interpreter record an ad-hoc broadcast message, informing the Iraqi people that if they did not stand back from the statue, American forces would not bring the statue down. We were afraid that some civilians would get hurt if they were too close or in the wrong spot.

All of this activity was going on within just a few blocks of where other marines were battling with snipers in a building across from the Palestine Hotel. The local Iraqi people just did not care for their well being at this point; they just wanted to see the statue come down...We looked over and now there was an American flag draped over the face of the statue. God bless them, but we were thinking from PSYOP school that this was just bad news. We didn't want to look like an occupation force, and some of the Iraqis were saying, `No, we want an Iraqi flag!' So I said `No problem, somebody get me an Iraqi flag.' I am not sure where it came from, but one of the Iraqis brought us the old Iraqi flag without the writing on it (added by Saddam). We got that as fast as we could and started running that up to the statue. At this time, the marines had put a chain from the boom of the recovery vehicle around the neck of the statue, and they just ran the [Iraqi] flag up the statue. It was real quick thinking on Staff Sergeant

Plesich's part to get that Iraqi flag up there quick. But by the time the Iraqi flag got put on the statue, there had already been a lot of photos taken with the marine covering the statue with the American flag.
Somehow along the way, somebody had gotten the idea to put a bunch of Iraqi kids onto the wrecker that was to pull the statue down. While the wrecker was pulling the statue down, there were Iraqi children crawling all over it. Finally they brought the statue down, but we expected this big statue to come crashing down, to shatter or whatever, but it just slowly bent over and slid off the mounting pipes. Once the statue was on the ground, it was attacked by Iraqis with the sledgehammers and broken apart. The head of the statue was dragged through the streets, with people hitting the face with their shoes and spitting on it. After the statue was down, we started to receive a lot of intelligence on where Ba'ath Party personnel were staying and just generally got a lot of real good intelligence for use in later direct-action missions. All this information was developed with and through the human exploitation teams, which had assigned interpreters

Posted: Dim - Septembre 19, 2004 at 06:54         |