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When a regime came tumbling down

THE OBSERVER

The view from the Shiite south

April 10, 2008|Raheem Salman | Times staff writer

Five years ago Wednesday, U.S. forces entered the heart of the Iraqi capital, and Saddam Hussein's regime fell. While much of the world watched the downfall of Hussein and the destruction of his huge statue in central Baghdad's Firdos Square on television, Iraqis lived it. They have memories of what they were feeling as Hussein was toppled from power. Here are some of them:

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When the war began, I took my family to the south because our home was too close to Baghdad's airport road, where fighting was expected.

I brought them to my home city of Amarah, 190 miles southeast of the capital. People there were known for their opposition to Hussein's Baathist government. The regime had deprived the Shiite Muslim city of resources. Many residents had been imprisoned or killed and buried in mass graves after the 1991 Shiite uprising after the Gulf War.

In Amarah, we had no electricity and operated our TV off a car battery. We received news of the war from the Iranian channel Al Alam. When Hussein was ousted, one of his best-known opponents, Abdul Kareem Mohammedawi, entered the city. People called him the "prince of the marshes" because he had fought Hussein from the south's wetlands.

With the appearance of Mohammedawi and his men, Baath Party members hid and celebratory crowds gathered. Some women let out high-pitched victory trills; others handed out sweets, food and cold water to revelers.

Crowds chanted the names of exiled leaders -- Hakim, Chalabi, Allawi. Shots were heard from time to time, but people weren't bothered. They considered them bullets of joy.

Rumors spread. One was that missing family members were locked in secret prisons beneath the intelligence offices. Hundreds gathered, and digging equipment was brought.

Crowds looted government offices. Women and children were among those carrying off chairs, desks and tables. Foodstuffs were ransacked from warehouses.

We were stunned to see so much food stored away when people had suffered so long from shortages. Mobs set buildings ablaze.

About 10 gunmen entered my parent's house while we were there and stole our 2002 Land Cruiser.

My old teacher from secondary school studied the scene.

He warned me: "If this is the beginning of the whole thing, it is not good. Maybe one day we will be sorry."

-- Raheem Salman, Times staff writer

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