BAGHDAD - Ten years ago, a statue fell in Baghdad's Firdous Square. Joyful Iraqis helped by an American tank retriever pulled down their longtime dictator, cast as 16 feet of bronze. The scene broadcast live worldwide became an icon of the war, a symbol of final victory over Saddam Hussein.
But for the residents of the capital, it was only the beginning.
The toppling of the statue remains a potent symbol that has divided Iraqis ever since: Liberation for Shiites and Kurds, a loss for some Sunnis and grief among almost everybody over the years of death, destruction and occupation that followed the fall of Baghdad to U.S. forces on April 9, 2003.
In this March 8 photo, the empty pillar, right, where the statue of former dictator Saddam Hussein sat, was pulled down by U.S. forces in 2003, in Baghdad, Iraq. Ten years ago, a statue fell in Paradise Square. Joyful Iraqis helped by a U.S. Army tank retriever pulled down their longtime dictator, cast as 16 feet of bronze. The scene broadcast live worldwide became an icon for a war, a symbol of final victory over Saddam Hussein. But for the people of Baghdad, it was only the beginning. The toppling of the statue on April 9, 2003, remains a potent symbol that has divided Iraqis ever since.
"Ten years ago, I dreamed of better life," said Rassol Hassan, 80, who witnessed the fall of the statue from his nearby barber shop. "Nothing has changed since then for me and many Iraqis, it has even gotten worse."
In an opinion piece in the Washington Post, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the overwhelming majority of Iraqis agree that they are better off today than under Saddam's brutal dictatorship.
"Iraqis will remain grateful for the U.S. role and for the losses sustained by military and civilian personnel that contributed in ending Hussein's rule," he said.
"Iraq is not a protectorate of the United States; it is a sovereign partner," al-Maliki said in response to the contention that Iraq has become more pro-Iran than pro-West. "Partners do not always agree, but they consider and respect each other's views. In that spirit, we ask the United States to consider Iraq's views on challenging issues, especially those of regional importance."
In the past 10 years, Iraqis have seen the country's power base shift from minority Arab Sunnis to majority Shiites, with Kurds gaining their own autonomous region.
"For Kurds there is no regret," said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish legislator. "April 9 is a national liberation day for us."
Ali al-Moussawi, a spokesman for Iraq's Shiite-led government, said "April 9 is a day of contradictions: We ended the oppression of Saddam" but began the American occupation. Still, he emphasized that Iraqis were looking forward.
"Our fight is . against terrorist groups that kill people and want to prevent them from tasting the freedom they had lost for 30 years (under Saddam)."
A Sunni lawmaker, Hamid al-Mutlaq, was unsparing in his assessment of what happened a decade ago.
"Baghdad, the city of history and civilization, fell into the hands of a brutal occupation that ignored all laws," al-Mutlaq said. "They came as occupiers and killers unlike what they said before. They left us killing, sectarianism and displacement," he added. "It is a black and ominous day in its history. It is a day of slavery."
Baghdad has indelibly changed since the darkest days of the war.
Residents no longer flee their neighborhoods fearing sectarian violence. Bridges joining Sunni and Shiite areas have reopened. Hotels are being renovated as foreign investment trickles in.
But car bombs targeting police, Shiite mosques and government offices, mostly the hallmarks of al-Qaida militants, still ravage the city of some 7 million.
Ten years on, the city is draped in a spider's web of generator cords wrapped over crumbling buildings and crisscrossing above unpaved streets, a sign of the graft-ridden government's failure to restore power or rebuild basic infrastructure.