Cover

THE FALL OF BAGHDAD

Saddam Hussein is no longer a threat. But with the dictator gone comes a new set of challenges-restoring order and rebuilding Iraq from the ruins.

JAMES DEACON April 21 2003
Cover

THE FALL OF BAGHDAD

Saddam Hussein is no longer a threat. But with the dictator gone comes a new set of challenges-restoring order and rebuilding Iraq from the ruins.

JAMES DEACON April 21 2003

THE FALL OF BAGHDAD

Cover

Saddam Hussein is no longer a threat. But with the dictator gone comes a new set of challenges-restoring order and rebuilding Iraq from the ruins.

THE AIR’S STILL THICK with the stench of war and there’s no sure bet on when the hostilities might finally end. But the two most telling blows in Iraq were landed last week. The first was delivered by four bunker-busting bombs that demolished Saddam Hussein’s last known refuge in besieged Baghdad. It wasn’t clear if the attack killed the Iraqi dictator and his sons or merely chased them into a deeper hiding place, but it did seem to trigger the collapse of authority in the capital as regime leaders vanished. Except for pockets of resistance, the city fell without the endlessly bloody, streetto-street battle that some had feared.

Iraqis, though, provided the most compelling evidence of victory. Convinced by the presence of U.S. troops and the disappearance of regime loyalists that Saddam was no longer a threat, Baghdad residents toppled statues and set fire to images of the hated dictator. They ransacked top officials’ homes and government offices—one man, grinning broadly, walked out of Uday Hussein’s vacated compound with a white horse. Some even cheered the arrival of coalition forces, just as U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair had predicted before the fighting began.

But now, as the war wraps up, it gets complicated. The symbolism of Iraqis tearing down images of Saddam was powerful, but so too were unsettling scenes of widespread looting—even of hospitals—and news of suicide bombings. Worse, long-suppressed religious divisions began to erupt. At a mosque in Najaf, Shia cleric Abdul Majid al-Khoei— whom Blair described as “a religious leader who embodied hope and reconciliation”—was hacked to death by a mob loyal to another mullah. In the chaos, the coalition must restore order, provide water and power, repair roads and bridges, attend to thousands of casualties, and kick-start the economic engine, the oil industry. The reconstruction team, led by retired U.S. general Jay Garner, won’t always be greeted by cheers. Too many Iraqis blame coalition trade sanctions and bombs for leaving their country in ruin.

And tough questions remained unanswered. Where were the weapons of mass destruction that were Bush’s justification for war? Would Washington and the United Nations patch up their differences? Could the Iraqis agree on a leader? And until the Americans withdraw, will the war really be over?

JAMES DEACON