Monday, April 09, 2007

Looking Back at the Fall of Baghdad

The toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue at Firdaus Square remains a defining image of the Fall of Baghdad, which occurred four years ago today. The first to swing a sledgehammer against the stone base of the statue was Khadim al-Jubouri, a burly man who had been imprisoned for a year and a half in the 1990s for criticizing Saddam's regime.

In today's Washington Post, Sudarsan Raghavan tells Jubouri's story and asks him what he thinks today, four years later. His answer is a testament to far Baghdad has fallen since then.

"It achieved nothing," Jubouri says now. "We regret that Saddam Hussein is gone, no matter how much we hated him." ...Under Hussein, he never faced day-to-day corruption, Jubouri said, but now he must pay bribes just to get a license or file a police complaint. "I feel lost now," he said.
Four years ago today, I remember where I was and what I was doing. I had spent the entire night reading news accounts of the fighting in Baghdad to compile a dispatch for EPIC's members. At the time, EPIC's website was receiving 100,000s of hits each day, and EPIC's staff and I worked overtime to provide a clearinghouse of accurate news reporting about the war, especially its impact on ordinary Iraqis.

Like the regrets of Jubouri today, a fuller account of the Fall of Baghdad complicates the picture perfect toppling of Saddam's statue. While I too welcomed the end of Saddam's tyranny, my organization was alarmed by the collapse of the Iraqi state and the humanitarian consequences of the U.S. administration's failure to be prepared for the "day after" Saddam.

The following is an excerpt from the dispatch I sent EPIC's members in the early wee hours of April 9, 2003:

Baghdad, a city of more than 5 million, remains a combat zone. On Sunday a U.S. 3rd Infantry armored division rolled through the capital city, leaving thousands of Iraqi defenders dying in its wake (Reuters 4/7/03). On Monday, a column of 130 U.S. tanks and armored vehicles pushed again into the heart of Baghdad. Heavy fighting engulfed the al-Rashid hotel, nearby military parade grounds, and Iraq’s Ministry of Information. Upon reaching the west banks of the Tigris river, U.S. 3rd Infantry captured the Sijood and Republican Palaces (NYT 4/8/03).

Yesterday, in another day of bloody urban warfare, 3rd Infantry fought to take control of central Baghdad. Backed by strafing A-10 Warthogs, 3rd Infantry repelled a counterattack by Iraqi defenders. The pitched battle lasted for over 6 hours. U.S. warplanes, artillery and tanks pounded government ministries and other official buildings (NYT 4/8/03).

From the east, units of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force crossed the Diyala River, captured the Rashid air base, and fought to take control of the east banks of the Tigris River (Wa Post 4/8/03).

Civilian casualties have increased dramatically since U.S. ground forces arrived in the capital last week. NPR’s Anne Garrels reports: “The emergency room at Baghdad’s al-Kindi hospital was covered in blood. A father carried in his four-year-old son. He was pronounced dead on arrival. His 12 year old daughter was also killed when a bomb hit the modest carpentry shop the family called home. His wife lay in a gurney. Her beige sun dress drenched in blood from the waist down. A doctor said she too would die and left to treat someone else. The hospital is understaffed as doctors and nurses can’t make it to work through the fighting (NPR’s All Things Considered 4/8/03).”

Taleb Saadi, a doctor at Baghdad's al-Kindi hospital, said 30 to 35 bodies arrived yesterday at the hospital and as many as 300 wounded were treated at its emergency ward (AP 4/8/03). Due to a shortage of medical supplies, some surgeries and amputations are being performed without adequate anesthetics. Other hospitals report a similar flood of casualties (ICRC 4/8/03). According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), there is now a permanent wave of mass casualties.

Over the past 48 hours, five foreign journalists covering the battle have also been killed and at least 4 others wounded. On Tuesday, a U.S. M1 Abrams tank fired a shell into the 15th floor of the Palestine Hotel, killing two cameramen with Reuters and Spanish television (BBC 4/8/03). Later that same day, a correspondent with al-Jazeera, was killed when U.S. missiles hit the station’s Baghdad bureau. Abu Dhabi television said its bureau was also hit. Consequently, some journalists are asking to be safely evacuated, reducing the presence of foreign journalists in Baghdad.

Much of Baghdad has had either no, or only intermittent, power and running water since last Thursday (Reuters 4/3/03). Water supplies are in further jeopardy following the failure of the Qanat raw water pumping station in the north of the city (ICRC 4/8/03). Severe water shortages plague Basra and other cities in Southern Iraq as well.

U.S. military officials say Baghdad is now free (LA Times 4/9/03). There are reports of widespread looting and celebrations in Baghdad and Basra (NPR 4/9/03). U.S. and British forces appear unable and unwilling to restore order.
Even before the statue came tumbling down, it was already clear to war correspondents in Baghdad that the Bush administration was not prepared for the war's aftermath. Four years later, U.S. service members and Iraqi civilians are still paying the price.

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