PR PLAY OF THE WEEK: Saddam statue's fall signals Iraqis' rise

WASHINGTON: For 24 years, Saddam Hussein's Baath Party assured the world that the people of Iraq loved their president. Last week, the citizens of Baghdad told their side of the story - with images more powerful than the spin of any government.

WASHINGTON: For 24 years, Saddam Hussein's Baath Party assured the world that the people of Iraq loved their president. Last week, the citizens of Baghdad told their side of the story - with images more powerful than the spin of any government.

Ever since US forces entered Iraq last month, Iraqi information minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhad has publicly denied their progress, insisting Iraqis wanted to fight for Saddam. With the aid of Arab news networks like al-Jazeera and Abu Dhabi, who regard the Baath Party's word with at least as much reverence as the Fox News Channel does the Pentagon, al-Sahhad's version was largely repeated throughout the region as truth. But there's no mistaking the meaning behind the pictures beamed live around the world from central Baghdad last Wednesday. Hordes of Iraqi citizens, long denied their own voice, spoke out loudly and clearly. As the world watched, they hacked at and eventually toppled an imposing statute of Saddam. Onlookers danced and celebrated. As always, images speak louder than words. With one fell swoop - literally - the Iraqi people destroyed Baath Party credibility, and told the world that the man who said he won 100% of the vote in a recent election had a lot less than full public support. Astute observers will also note what these citizens did after the statue fell. Young men quickly rushed the square to decorate it with Iraqi flags. More than once in its history has the US misread a country's hatred for its ruler as love for a foreign "liberator" - a fact borne out recently by the unexpected resistance US forces encountered in other parts of Iraq. So perhaps the people of Baghdad were also using their flag display to send a message not just to Saddam, but to President Bush as well. We can be sure they hope he was watching.

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