The Army’s internal study of the war in Iraq criticizes some efforts by its own psychological operations units, but one spur-of-the-moment effort last year produced the most memorable image of the invasion.
As the Iraqi regime was collapsing on April 9, 2003, Marines converged on Firdos Square in central Baghdad, site of an enormous statue of Saddam Hussein. It was a quick-thinking Army psychological operations team that made it appear to be a spontaneous Iraqi undertaking. After the colonel — who was not named in the report — selected the statue as a “target of opportunity,” the psychological team used loudspeakers to encourage Iraqi civilians to assist, according to an account by a unit member.
On Point, a US army report on lessons learned from the war, notes that it was a Marine colonel, not Iraqi civilians, who decided to topple the statue. “We moved our [tactical PSYOP team] TPT vehicle forward and started to run around seeing what they needed us to do to facilitate their mission,” states a U.S. military officer involved in the operation. “There was a large media circus at this location (I guess the Palestine Hotel was a media center at the time), almost as many reporters as there were Iraqis, as the hotel was right adjacent to the Al-Firdos Square. The Marine Corps colonel in the area saw the Saddam statue as a target of opportunity and decided that the statue must come down.” The pyschological team used loudspeakers to encourage Iraqi civilians to assist, packed the scene with Iraqi children, and stepped in to readjust the props when one of the soldiers draped an American flag over the statue. “God bless them, but we were thinking from PSYOP school that this was just bad news,” the officer reported. “We didn’t want to look like an occupation force, and some of the Iraqis were saying, ‘No, we want an Iraqi flag!’ So I said ‘No problem, somebody get me an Iraqi flag.’ “