Karbala, April 6 (Reuters): It took longer than the US army anticipated but Saddam Hussein was toppled today — in an operation that began with a blowtorch to the ankles.
The Saddam in question was a five-metre high bronze statue of the Iraqi leader in the city of Kerbala, around 80 km south of Baghdad, and his downfall came at the hands of local people pulling on a rope, after some help from US forces.
When US soldiers moved yesterday into Karbala — a holy city for Shias, many of whom have long opposed Saddam and his mainly Sunni ruling elite — local people asked them to take down the statue of the Iraqi President, soldiers said. British troops have already razed a Saddam statue in Basra and invading forces have ripped down and smashed up his ubiquitious portraits wherever they go.
Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion 70th armoured regiment agreed to help and today afternoon they arrived at the statue of Saddam. The Iraqi leader was in military uniform, his right hand outstretched and an impassive expression on his face. A welder began to blowtorch the lower leg, aiming to weaken the statue enough so local people could pull it down. A crowd of a few hundred onlookers, mainly young men and boys, gathered and swelled to several thousand by the time the statue finally fell.
“It’s very good because we don’t like it,” a man in a grey shirt said of the operation before melting back into the crowd.
Like the real Saddam, the bronze imitation proved more resilient than some observers expected. Only after about an hour of blowtorching, as smoke floated through a hole in the chest, did the statue start to look vulnerable.
The rope slipped from the grasp of the scores of people pulling on it. Then they got it back. Then the statue began to sway. Then the rope snapped and a new one had to be found. But finally, down it came.
Some of the crowd broke into applause as the statue fell head first onto the stepped podium it occupied above a pool of water. People climbed excitedly onto the statue and began beating it with their shoes and anything else they could grab.
“He took a bit more than I thought he would but in the end he came down,” said the welder who had wielded the blowtorch, Specialist Gerry Reichardt, a 23-year-old from Honolulu, Hawaii, as some local people clamoured to congratulate him.