Baghdad: Liberated for the Iraqis, but ?? for Us

noose sledgehammer
marines flag
chain saddam

ABC News

Chin, of the 3rd battalion, 4th Marines regiment, says he was just following orders in the minutes before the statue was pulled to the ground in a joint effort by jubilant Iraqis and U.S. troops. “I was just trying my best to get the chain around his neck and put the flag on his head,” Chin told ABCNEWS’ Good Morning America. “Pretty much at the moment I was just doing what I was told to do by my commanding officer,” he said.

The flag was flying at the Pentagon on Sept 11

The American flag that briefly covered the face on a Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad this week came from a Marine from Laconia, N.H. Marine Lt. Tim McLaughlin was working in the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, and was given the flag that day. He carried it with him to Iraq, and it became part of history on Wednesday when McLaughlin sat atop his tank and watched as a fellow Marine scaled the statue and draped the flag over its head.

The Los Angeles Times Poll. April 2-3, 2003.

“Do you think Saddam Hussein bears any responsibility for the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, or does he bear no responsibility?” If Yes: “Does he bear all of the responsibility, or most of the responsibility, or some of the responsibility, or hardly any responsibility for the September 11th attacks?”

None All Most Some Hardly Any Don’t Know
22% 6% 11% 42% 3% 16%

CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll. March 14-15, 2003.

“Do you think Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the September 11th terrorist attacks, or not?”

Yes, Involved No, Not Involved No Opinion
3/03 51% 41% 8%
8/02 53% 34% 13%

CBS News/New York Times Poll. March 7-9, 2003.

“Do you think Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the September 11th, 2001, terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon?”

Yes No Don’t Know
3/03 45% 40% 15%
2/03 42% 42% 16%
9/02 51% 33% 16%

Knight Ridder poll conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates. Jan. 3-6, 2003.

“As far as you know, how many of the September 11th terrorist hijackers were Iraqi citizens: most of them, some of them, just one, or none?”

Most of them 21%
Some of them 23%
Just one 6%
None 17%
Don’t know 33%

I am happy today for the Iraqi people, but I am sad for us Americans. These opinions and these photos will circulate for a long time and they will show to the world that doesn’t have a good opnion of the US already that Americans reacted to September 11 by attacking Iraq. The Arab equivalent of FoxNews will make sure to stereotype Americans as we stereotype the French today. This is only a small step in the PR and diplomacy disaster that is the Bush administration. I hope for our sake and others’ that they do better, much better. Time alone will tell.

Why couldn’t the Marines let the Iraqi people take down the statue? After all, the Iraqis wanted to! Imagine if US soldiers stationed in West Germany had taken down the Berlin Wall instead of ordinary Germans. Would the effect have been the same?

By Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer


  1. Not only did the Germans tear down their own wall, but they (the Easterners, that is) turned out their own government. East Germany was the police state to end all police states, but it collapsed from within, and the collapse seems to be quite complete and lasting. The pictures of the Saddam statue may have been a PR disaster, but only because they pointed out the truth: this was not a popular uprising. (This doesn’t mean that Saddam wasn’t a jackass or that the Iraqis aren’t almost certain to be better off now that he’s gone, but I’m just pointing out the obvious – the US & co. supplied all the force for this “revolution”.)

  2. Andrew, you are obviously right. But in the days to come, it is going to be a somewhat tough situation for the US in Iraq and every bit of PR and effort will help.

  3. Zack – True. I think it’s also important to think about who is the target audience of this PR, and realize it may not have the same effect on various audiences. I’d propose that there are 4 main viewpoints for these scenes, in descending order of importance (in terms of how they will influence the campaign’s political success):

    1. Americans – Looks great. We’re winning, people are cheering, if not for us, at least next to us. Great PR. (The essential question of what this could possibly have to do with national security is another question entirely, and why exactly we’re doing this, one that these pictures help knock to the back pages.)

    2. Iraqis – Maybe this is really audience #1, but I’m not sure what kind of media access people in Iraq have now, and how much impact TV pictures can have when you can see the real deal by looking out your window. This one’s hard to say. Is it bad that US Marines are doing the tearing down? Maybe yes, if it looks like the Americans are trying to replace the Saddam statue with the flag; maybe no if looks like they are joining in and humiliating Saddam. Again, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad message to have a lot of Marines around (a photo without any Americans would probably be terrible PR – ‘what do we need Americans for?’ people might think), but I think TV pictures aren’t going to have as much influence here as real events in the country.

    3. Critics of the war (humanitarian) – Great PR. People cheering, Saddam gone, the worst prdictions of civilian death and civil war looking unlikely.

    4. Critics of the war (ideological) – Terrible, but who cares? If people think that this war is part of a mad campaign to kill as many Arab babies as possible and then suck all of Iraq’s oil to Texas through a giant kosher straw, they are going to think that. Anything is evidence that this is true, with a little prodding. There’s no point in trying to change their minds, because it is impossible, and because it is irrelevent.

    As for the polls… well, that’s just embarrassing, basically. No silver lining.

  4. The polls have unfortunately put a new perspective on those polls that show a majority of Arabs think that the Mossad was behind the 9/11 attacks. It seems that people in a lot of countries are willing to believe in ridiculous conspiracy theories. It’s pretty deplorable all around.

    Maybe it was UFO aliens that did it…

  5. Andrew:

    1. Agreed.

    2. Agreed as to the short term. These pictures might affect some Iraqis negatively later when they have soured on the US.

    3. Would have had a better effect without the flag.

    4a. I am dividing this into 2 subgroups: the hardline and the reasonable. For the Hardline, agreed.

    4b. The reasonable critics: Those especially in the Muslim and Arab world will definitely be negatively affected by this. If the purpose of the war is to change the paradigm in the Arab world, then part of the message of these photos is negative.

    I put the polls there because I know a lot of people especially in the Middle East will connect the Pentagon flag with these polls.

    Also, the Sept 11 Pentagon flag makes it look like it was a planned action,which it probably was not. The US flag has been raised a few times by some soldiers in this war and then removed by the commanders. That is no big deal in my opinion. But the connection between 9/11 and the flag makes it look very believable for the conspiracy theorists.

  6. Agreed. On 4b., though, I think we’re back to the fact that it’s bad PR because it’s true – a lot of people do think Saddam was behind 9/11. I’m more worried about the fact that so many Americans really do believe this, in a complete vacuum of supporting evidence, than the fact that other people know that they believe it. This problem is bigger than PR.

  7. Oh, and here’s what one Iraqi thinks about the symbolism of the Saddam statue-US flag thing (well, how one Norwegien relates this guy’s thoughts – how international!):

    More interesting were the opinions of three Iraqis who were invited to studio. Two of them supported the war, one making the apt observation that the tearing down of that statue by Saddam in central Baghdad today, (which has been shown on Norwegian TV as it has everywhere else), was symbolic both of Iraq’s past and of Iraq’s future. First, you’ll remember, the Iraqi people spends many hours trying to pull it down themselves, without success. Then the Americans come and do it for them. The Americans first places an American flag on the statue, and then takes it down and replaces it with an Iraqi flag. He’s right, that is symbolic, almost suspiciously so. But no, of course it wasn’t arranged, and yes I think we saw demonstrated, for the first time, how a large number of citizens of Baghdad really feel about Saddam’s dictatorship, when they know they’re not being shot for expressing it.

  8. I’m in group 3, and I pretty much agree with Zack – it would have been better without the flag. The PR emphasis for groups 2 and 3 has to be “Iraq for the Iraqis,” and any suggestion that the United States is taking over will (rightly) not go down well. It would be even better if the reality matches the PR, although I don’t have very much confidence in this administration.

  9. Who cares how Iraqis feel? If they get out of line we’ll blow up their country and hopefully whatever replaces Saddam is smart enough to realize that. The stuff about the baddness of Iraq’s regime and liberation was just window dressing; even post-war Germany and Japan were kept under a close watch (with extensive US occupation forces) in spite of their more or less democratic replacements. In both cases too various restrictions were put in place to prevent democracy from spitting out another extremist regime. I don’t see why we shouldn’t send that message loud and clear to the Iraqis.

    And frankly, as for the humiliation of the US having to do things for them, good again. They need to realize that this national socialist Baathist bullshit is what made them so dysfunctional in the first place.

    Just a reminder to everyone, including the neocon idealists: war is not primarily a favor one does for other people, but a punishment and an imposition of one’s national will in retaliation for bad things they’ve done or threaten to do.

  10. In a bombshell finding virtually ignored by the American media, a U.S. district court judge in Manhattan ruled Wednesday [May 7, 2003] that Salman Pak, Saddam Hussein’s airplane hijacking school located on the outskirts of Baghdad, played a material role in the devastating Sept. 11 attacks on America.
    …according to courtroom testimony by three of the camp’s instructors, the facility was a virtual hijacking classroom where al-Qaeda recruits practiced overcoming U.S. flight crews using only small knives – a terrorist technique never employed before 9/11.

    Judge Harold Baer ruled Wednesday that the survivors of two people who were killed in the World Trade Center terrorist attack had presented enough evidence, “albeit barely,” to be awarded $104 million in damages against the state of Iraq, Osama bin Laden, and his terrorist network.
    He reviewed the testimony of [former CIA Director James] Woolsey and terrorism expert Dr. Laurie Mylroie on alleged links between the Iraqi regime and al-Qaida, including whether lead hijacker Mohammed Atta met with a high-ranking member of Iraqi intelligence in Prague before Sept. 11, and whether Saddam Hussein ran a hijacking training camp in Salman Pak, just outside of Baghdad.
    “In particular, Mylroie testified about Iraq’s covert involvement in the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and about the proximity of the dates of bin Laden’s attack on the U.S. embassies and Hussein’s ouster of weapons inspectors.”

  11. Iraq, Media, Politics and Public Opinion

    Via Balkinization, I found a survey of US public opinion of the Iraq war and related matters. This survey has a lot of interesting information regarding public beliefs about the Iraq war and their correlation with media and political beliefs….

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