Now green Shia banners fly in square where Saddam fell

By James Brandon in Baghdad

09 April 2004

Where there once was a freedom statue, which replaced Saddam Hussein's toppled bronze likeness, there now stands a monument to a country torn apart by political rivalry.

A green banner of the Shia flutters from the summit of Fardous Square's freedom statue, and from around its base posters from the Communist Party and the Iraqi Women's Movement jostle for space. Glowering portraits of Muqtada Sadr hang from the top of the sculpture. The quote on the portrait reads: "We will never accept humiliations or insults from anyone." A few days after these portraits were put up, Sadr's Army of Mehdi killed seven American soldiers in Sadr City, a sprawling Shia slum of two million people.

In contrast to the largely staged jubilation that took place a year ago when Saddam's statue tumbled to the ground, Fardous Square was recently witness to a very real and frightening event for Western forces. Earlier this week, the square echoed to furious chanting as more than a thousand supporters of Sadr demonstrated against the American occupation.

"The fall of the statue meant the fall of the regime. It seemed like a new age for Iraqis was beginning," said Hasin Hattim, 43, an engineer, returning home from work. But he added: "The Americans guarded the Ministry of Oil while leaving all the treasures of the National Museum to be looted and burnt. Now I fear that the Americans came not to change the regime but to pursue their own ambitions."

US soldiers are now sealing off the square which they had come to "liberate" a year ago.