March 22, 2003
SAFWAN, Iraq -- U.S. Marines tore down Saddam Hussein in a screeching pop of metal and bolts Friday, rigging winch chains to the giant street portraits in newly taken southern Iraq.
Crowds of men and boys watched, briefly joining Maj. David "Bull" Gurfein in a new cheer. "Iraqis, Iraqis, Iraqis!" Gurfein yelled, pumping his fist in the air.
"We wanted to send a message that Saddam is done," said Gurfein, a New York native in the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.
"People are scared to show a lot of emotion. That's why we wanted to show them this time we're here, and Saddam is done," he said.
Marines next to him attached metal ropes on the front of their Jeeps to one metal portrait of Hussein, backing up to peel the Iraqi leader's black and white image off the metal frame.
The Marines arrived in Safwan, just across the Kuwait border, after Cobra attack helicopters, attack jets, tanks, 155mm howitzers and sharpshooters cleared the way along Route 80, the main road into Iraq.
Safwan, 375 miles south of Baghdad, is a poor, dirty, wrecked town pocked by shrapnel from the last Gulf War. Reminders of the first war abound, among them a leftover missile that detonated inside a soccer field a year ago, killing eight children.
Iraqi forces in the area sporadically fired mortars and guns for hours Thursday and Friday. Most townspeople hid, although residents brought forth a wounded little girl, her palm bleeding after the new fighting. One man said his wife had been shot in the leg by the Americans.
A few men and boys ventured out, putting makeshift white flags on their pickup trucks or waving white T-shirts out truck windows.
"Americans very good," Ali Khemy said. "Iraq wants to be free."
Some chanted, "Ameriki! Ameriki!"
Many others in the starving town just patted their stomachs and raised their hands, begging for food.
A man identifying himself only as Abdullah welcomed the arrival of the U.S. troops: "Saddam Hussein is no good. Saddam Hussein a butcher."
An old woman shrouded in black -- one of the few women outside -- knelt toward the feet of Americans, embracing an American woman. A younger man with her pulled her away, giving her a warning sign by sliding his finger across his throat.
In 1991, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died after prematurely celebrating what they believed was their liberation from Hussein after the Gulf War.
Some even pulled down a few pictures of Hussein then -- only to be killed by Iraqi forces.
The townspeople seemed grateful this time.
"No Saddam Hussein!" one young man in headscarf told Gurfein. "Bush!"