Iraqi Who Toppled Saddam Hussein Statue 15 Years Ago Regrets His Action

Apr 9, 2018
Originally published on April 9, 2018 9:40 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It was 15 years ago today when American forces took control of Baghdad. At the time, it seemed like conclusion to a remarkably swift invasion. We now know the war was just beginning, but it was over for Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. And on live television, Saddam's statue started coming down. In Baghdad, NPR's Jane Arraf found an Iraqi man who held the hammer.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOTORCYCLE REVVING)

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Kadhim Sharif al-Jabouri has two passions - motorcycles and weightlifting. He was a champion powerlifter with the muscles and the medals to prove it. But what he's most famous for is taking a sledgehammer to the statue of Saddam Hussein the day Baghdad fell. In the news footage, you can see a man with huge biceps in a sleeveless shirt swinging away at the concrete base of the statue. That's Jabouri. At his motorcycle repair shop, he recalls what happened.

KADHIM SHARIF AL-JABOURI: (Through interpreter) I was in my garage close to the statute. And I had always had the idea that the day would come when I could hit the statue and topple it. When the Americans started to enter the city, I took my sledgehammer. Then I went to the statue and started hitting it.

ARRAF: He says after half an hour or so, the Marines arrived. One of them greeted him and asked if he wanted help.

AL-JABOURI: (Speaking Arabic).

ARRAF: The Marines brought a tow truck. In a serious error of judgment, one of them placed an American flag on the statue. Jabouri says he brought an Iraqi flag from the social club next door to replace it.

AL-JABOURI: (Through interpreter) I was very happy because the danger, the dictatorship, the dictatorial regime - they were all gone. We were happy to think there would be change for people, but then we were surprised.

ARRAF: He's so surprised about what happened to Iraq over the last 15 years, Jabouri now says he wishes Saddam hadn't been toppled. Not all Iraqis feel that way, of course, about the man they acknowledge was a dictator, but a surprising number say they do.

AL-JABOURI: (Through interpreter) This was a brutal regime, but now, really, I regret hitting the statue. Those who came after are worse than Saddam Hussein and worse than Saddam Hussein's regime. That's why I regret it so much.

ARRAF: And that's from a man who spent 11 years in prison under Saddam, who had relatives executed because they were with the Communist Party and the Shia Dawa Party. Like a lot of Iraqis, Jabouri considers today's politicians thieves. He also calls them gang members, criminals and killers.

AL-JABOURI: (Through interpreter) They haven't improved the infrastructure. They haven't built anything. They haven't done anything for the people.

ARRAF: Jabouri is 60 now. He shows me some of his powerlifting medals hanging from a glass case in his repair shop.

AL-JABOURI: (Speaking Arabic).

ARRAF: There are photos of some of his motorcycles. His very first bike was an Indian, a classic American motorcycle. After that, it was Harley-Davidson. He worked on Saddam Hussein's motorcycles and his son Uday's. Jabouri says it was Uday who threw him in prison in a dispute over money. Jabouri now says if the U.S. had to topple Saddam, it should have made sure Iraq got back on track.

AL-JABOURI: (Through interpreter) In my opinion, they were working better than these people in power now, but they didn't finish their mission.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOTORCYCLE REVVING)

ARRAF: He still fixes motorcycles. For years, you could see the metal toe of Saddam's foot still attached to the base of his former statue, but now you'd never even know anything was there. Jane Arraf, NPR News, Baghdad.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.