When Saddam Fell: How the Press was Misled From Day One

By: E&P Staff

They were the shots seen ’round the world: newspaper photographs and TV images of jubilant Iraqis toppling a giant statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad on April 9, 2003, shortly after the U.S. military chased him out of town. Now, after months of rumors, the U.S. military has confirmed that the entire stunt was conceived by the U.S. military and enacted with the help of a fast-thinking Army psychological operation (PSYOP).

A U.S. Army internal study of the war reveals, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times, that as the Iraqi regime was collapsing that day, U.S. Marines converged on Firdos Square in central Baghdad. It was a Marine colonel who decided to topple the statue, the Army report said, with the PSYOP team making it appear to be a spontaneous Iraqi action.

First, the colonel, who was not named in the report, selected the statue as a “target of opportunity.” Then the PSYOP team used loudspeakers to encourage Iraqi civilians, many of them young people, to assemble and assist.

But Marines had already draped an American flag over the statue’s face. “God bless them, but we were thinking from PSYOP school that this was just bad news,” the PSYOP member wrote in the report. “We didn’t want to look like an occupation force.” A PSYOP sergeant quickly replaced the American flag with an Iraqi flag.

“Ultimately,” the Los Angeles Times report concluded, “a Marine recovery vehicle toppled the statue with a chain, but the effort appeared to be Iraqi-inspired because the PSYOP team had managed to pack the vehicle with cheering Iraqi children.”

Photos of the toppling appeared on front pages all over the world with captions that attributed the idea to a happy Iraqi mob.

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