Ten years ago, on April 9, 2003, the statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square in central Baghdad was torn down while the international media filmed. It was the moment the public, both in Baghdad and the rest of the world, knew for sure that the game was up for Saddam’s Ba’athist regime after 24 years in power. Orchestrated by the US military, which invited journalists and camera crews to witness and record what was essentially a moment of pure war propaganda, the end of Saddam and the beginning of a new era of democracy for the Iraqi people.
While all previous attempts to overthrow the regime had failed, the fall of Baghdad put an end to the blitz offensive launched by the United States and their allies on March 20, 2003.
After several months in hiding, Saddam Hussein was found in a hole in the ground. American armed forces arrested him in Tikrit as part of “Operation Red Dawn” during the night between December 13 and December 14.
The footage of his arrest was seen immediately all around the world. They showed a weakened, dirty, fallen dictator, a military doctor taking a cheek swab for a DNA test to formally identify the runaway.
“We got him!” exclaimed the US proconsul in Iraq, Paul Bremer, at the beginning of the press conference announcing Hussein’s capture; the moment will remain a defining image of the decade.
A year later, a Special Iraqi Tribunal was set up. Hussein and his relatives were charged with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
On December 30, 2006, the US authorities gave Saddam Hussein to the Iraqi people to carry out his death sentence. He was then hanged at the Kadhimiya military base, north of Baghdad. His death marked the end of an epilogue which started in 2003 with the symbolic fall of the dictator’s statue on Bagdad’s Firdos Square.
Jurists and NGOs from all over the world denounced Hussein’s trial as a “fundamentally inequitable” process. Human Rights Watch claimed it was “tainted with irregularities both in style and content.”
“The United States have offered Saddam in sacrifice on the altar of the Iraqi civil war,” wrote the Egyptian daily newspaper Al-Masri Al-Youm the day after Hussein’s hanging. This criticism was reinforced when an amateur video showing the dictator’s final moments was put online.
According to a recent study conducted by Brown University, at least 134,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed in the violence since the invasion of the country by the coalition in 2003. The situation created 1.4 million internally displaced persons and 1.3 million refugees.
Baghdad’s Firdos Square today where the statue of Saddam Hussein once stood: