Saddam’s statue: the bitter regrets of Iraq’s sledgehammer man

Source: The Guardian Unlimited

Kadom al-Jabouri became famous when he took his hammer to the dictator’s statue. Now he wishes he had never done it

Ten years ago, Kadom al-Jabouri became the face of the fall of Baghdad. Pictured with a sledgehammer while attempting to demolish the huge statue of Saddam Hussein in the city’s Firdos Square, Jabouri’s jubilant act of destruction made front pages around the world.

For Tony Blair and President George W Bush, the image was a godsend, encapsulating the delight of a grateful nation that their hated dictator had been ousted. The US networks showed the statue’s fall for hours on end.

However, almost exactly a decade later, the “sledgehammer man” – who was helped by a US tank carrier to finally topple the statue – furiously regrets that afternoon and the symbolism of what he was involved in. “I hated Saddam,” the 52-year-old owner of a motorcycle spares shop told the Observer. “I dreamed for five years of bringing down that statue, but what has followed has been a bitter disappointment.

“Then we had only one dictator. Now we have hundreds,” he says, echoing a popular sentiment in a country mired in political problems and corruption, where killings still occur on an almost daily basis. “Nothing has changed for the better.”

Video from the time shows Jabouri, a huge bull of a man in a vest top with close-cropped hair, battering the statue’s concrete plinth with furious intensity.

What actually happened that day is still the subject of rival claims. A report in the Los Angeles Times in 2004 suggested that the toppling of the statue was stage-managed. Jabouri denies that. His claim is contested by the American soldiers involved, including the crew of the M-88 tank tow truck that eventually pulled the statue down. Two years ago they told the New Yorker that the hammer belonged to them and that a first sergeant called Leon Lambert handed it to Iraqis who then took turns using it, Jabouri being the first of them.

These days Jabouri is still recognisable as the man from those images, the former champion power-lifter who spent 11 years in Abu Ghraib prison under Saddam. Despite his formidable physique, he could only break off chunks of concrete. Even with a rope supplied by the crew of the M-88, the crowd was still not strong enough to shift it. In the end it was the vehicle that pulled it down.

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