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The Fall of Baghdad: 20 Years On…

On April 9, 2003, Baghdad fell to coalition forces.

Exactly twenty years later, we’re looking back at reporting from the time in order to gain a greater understanding of the significance of this event.

The fall of Baghdad to US troops was almost unchallenged. Saddam Hussein and his government had already fled, wanting to avoid witnessing the regime’s defeat in the capital and their certain capture and detainment by the enemy. There are many symbolic moments that encapsulate the fall of Baghdad to Western audiences, but none are more recognisable that the felling of Hussein’s statue in Firdouz Square. Video footage of the Iraqi people destroying the statue is available via The Guardian here.

This act of iconoclasm– the destruction of images for political or religious reasons – still has resonance today. During 2020, Edward Colston’s statue was thrown into Bristol Harbour in protest of his involvement in – and profit from – the slave trade. Much like placing a statue, the tearing down of Hussein in Firdouz Square represented:

“an attempt to create a story about history”

Tunzelmann, The Guardian

This story, the coalition hoped, was a story of democracy, freedom and hope for the people of Iraq who were now free of Hussein.

Cpl Edward Chin from New York of the 3rd battalion, 4th Marines regiment, set up the star and stripes flag on the face of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s statue before to tear down it, in downtown Bagdad, Wednesday, April 9, 2003. (AP Photo/Laurent Rebours)

As the video linked above demonstrates, the citizens of Baghdad involved in the toppling were eager and excited to involve themselves in the country’s symbolic ‘liberation’. This feeling is also suggested in some of the sources in our archive, links to which can be found below.

See our archive for insights into the Iraqi reactions post-invasion:

However, such success in Baghdad, whilst historically important, cannot distract from pressing issues that the coalition faced state-wide in Iraq during the early months of the invasion.

Firstly, heavily militarised zones such as Baghdad quickly became too dangerous for humanitarian and non-government organisations to work in. This made implementing post-war reconstruction and ensuring people’s access to clean water, food, and medical assistance extremely difficult.

You can access sources on how the coalition dealt with Iraq’s humanitarian crisis through our exhibit.

Secondly, the Western strategy for long-term Iraqi state-building was yet to be fully established and faced criticism from domestic and international circles. Whilst support for Baghdad’s ‘liberation’ was strong in some groups, many Iraqis remained concerned about the coalition’s motives and their ability to stabilise Iraq socially, politically, and economically. Reconstruction would be costly, time consuming and politically challenging – you can read more about this in the sources linked below – with its concurrent involvement.

Reconstruction sources:

For some groups, the liberation of Baghdad was a significant step in the process of the Iraqi people reaching liberation from the control of the Hussein’s regime. For others, it raised questions about the violence of the Western-led regime change. It also prompted concerns for the future of the Iraqi population; once domestic political instability fed into nascent extremism – feelings that had been nurtured since the end of the Cold War – they would be the group that suffered most.

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