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Bittersweet memories of day Saddam's statue fell

Written by: Staff
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BAGHDAD, Apr 9 (Reuters) When the giant statue of Saddam Hussein came crashing down in Baghdad's Paradise Square, its iconic fall seemed to herald the end to decades of repression.

Three years after Baghdad fell to US invasion troops, the ousted leader is on trial for war crimes. But fear still grips Iraqis, now trying to survive sectarian death squads, suicide bombings and violent criminals.

''When I heard the Americans ripped down the statue of Saddam I was happy because I thought we were finished with his stupid wars,'' said traffic policeman Ali Jabar, 34.

''But If I knew that I would lose my younger brother to a car bomb, I would have preferred to stay under Saddam's rule'' Such gloom was never part of Washington's script for Iraq, when the administration of US President George W Bush promised to replace a brutal dictatorship with a prosperous democracy that could help transform the Middle East.

These days Firdos (paradise) square is a high security risk.

Suicide bombers have rammed their way through cement blast walls around it hoping to blow up hotels housing the same western journalists, whose companies filmed the fall of Saddam's statue.

An Iraqi photographer in Firdos square on the anniversary of the fall of Baghdad was quickly approached by three men with pistols who told him not to take too many photographs. The square has been targeted by insurgents several times.

Some Iraqis around Firdos square had no idea it was the third anniversary of the fall of Baghdad.

WHAT STATUE? Jabar al-Hilfi was one of the few people in the square today.

The 67-year-old municipal worker -- who was cutting the grass with a knife -- said he barely had the energy to get on with his job let alone reminisce about falling statues.

''What statue do you mean? We have only seen devastation and death since the fall of Saddam. This country is doomed to see agony and sadness. Look at me I can't even feed my family,'' he said.

Three years ago, television satellite channels beamed pictures of a man beating a poster of Saddam with his sandal and yelling ''you are the one who destroyed Iraq''.

One man's destruction brought on by three wars in 25 years and crippling United Nations sanctions has been replaced by the bloody chaos of sectarian violence, a raging insurgency and al Qaeda militants who are tearing the country to pieces.

Fouad Khalil celebrated when the statue fell because he saw it as a ticket out of Saddam's army. Now he worries he will have to fight in a war with no front lines, just sectarian hatred.

''We live in a disaster and hopes have vanished because sectarian war is looming,'' said the college student, 21.

Others are still grateful for April 9, 2003.

''I know the situation is not stable but with patience everything gets better. Freedom has an expensive price and we are ready to pay it,'' said Zamil Ali, 35, a college graduate seeking a steady job.

But 42-year-old pharmacist Youssef Saman said he misses even the few freedoms he enjoyed when Saddam was in power.

''Three years after Saddam was toppled I am unable to stay up late at night to walk in the street with my family,'' he said.

REUTERS SRS RK2025

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