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Khalil regrets toppling statue of Saddam

By AFP

09/04/08 "
AFP" -- - Baghdad - Ibrahim Khalil, who five years ago took part in the iconic toppling of a giant statue of Saddam Hussein in central Baghdad, said on Wednesday he now regrets taking part in the hugely symbolic event.

"If history can take me back, I will kiss the statue of Saddam Hussein which I helped pull down," Khalil told reporters on the fifth anniversary of the statue's toppling.

"I will protect the statue more than my own self," Khalil said in Firdoos Square alongside a monument erected where Saddam's statue once stood before US marines and Iraqis strung a chain around its neck and brought it crashing down.

The action marked the end of Saddam's iron-fisted regime and served as a premonition of the dictator's own end on December 30, 2006, when he was hanged in Baghdad for crimes against humanity.

Khalil, dressed in a blue T-shirt and grey trousers, said he is now sorry he was one of the dozens of jubiliant Iraqis who pulled down the statue and cheered the end of Saddam's rule.

"All my friends who were with me that day feel the same as me," Khalil told reporters in Firdoos Square, which was virtually deserted on Wednesday amid a vehicle ban in the capital imposed by the government to prevent insurgent attack.

Describing the events five years ago, Khalil said crowds of people had gathered at the square when the invading US marines arrived.

"A few of us managed to climb up to the statue which had been placed on a tall concrete structure. The soldiers gave us a long rope which we put around the neck and started pulling," said Khalil, a stocky 45-year-old.

"But the rope broke. Then the soldiers gave us a steel chain which my brother Kadhim put around the neck. The (US) tanks then started to pull the chain and soon the head was chopped off and the statue came tumbling down."

He said the cheering crowd and some marines pounced on the concrete structure "immediately".

"We hit the face of the statue with our shoes," he said, referring to an action considered the ultimate insult in Arab culture.

"It was a historic moment. I felt like I was born again. Most Iraqis felt happy as they all were affected by Saddam's regime."

But five years on, Khalil says the jubilation has long since vanished and that the situation in the country has vastly deteriorated.

Iraqi forces are still battling bloodshed that has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions of others.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says the plight of millions of Iraqis who still have little or no access to clean water, sanitation or health care is the "most critical in the world".

The economy, the main concern of Iraqis after security, is also a wreck.

"Now I realise that the day Baghdad fell was in fact a black day. Saddam's days were better," said Khalil, who along with his brother runs a car repair shop.

"I ask Bush: 'Where are your promises of making Iraq a better country?'

"These days when we go out we have to carry a pistol. In Saddam's regime, we were safe. We got rid of one Saddam, but today we have 50 Saddams."

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