BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The Iraqi man who was filmed attacking Saddam Hussein’s statue with a sledgehammer when U.S. troops stormed into Baghdad in 2003 said Iraq was in a better shape under his rule and George W. Bush and Tony Blair should be put on trial “for ruining” it.
Kadhim Hassan al-Jabouri was speaking on Wednesday as British former civil servant John Chilcot released a long-awaited report criticizing Britain’s role in the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq.
The report said that “policy on Iraq was made on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments”, and that claims that Iraq posed a threat by possessing weapons of mass destruction were “presented with unjustified certainty”.
It said that the turmoil unleashed in Iraq since the invasion should have come as no surprise.
“I regret striking the statue,” said Jabouri, a Shi’ite who lost more than a dozen relatives under Saddam, a member of the Sunni Muslim minority. He said they were killed for opposing the Iraqi leader, who was hanged in 2006.
The statue of Saddam was pulled down by U.S. Marines shortly after Jabouri and other Iraqis attacked it on April 9, 2003. Images of it being ripped from its plinth were broadcast live around the world and symbolized the moment Saddam’s ruthless quarter-century in power came to an end.
“I wish Saddam would return; he executed many of my family but he is still better than these politicians and clerics who got Iraq to the way it is,” he said, referring to the Shi’ite religious political parties that took over after the invasion.
Jabouri, 58, owned a motorcycle repair shop in the Karrada district of central Baghdad at the time of the invasion.
The mainly Shi’ite neighborhood was hit by a huge truck bomb on Saturday night, claimed by the ultra-hardline Sunni group Islamic State, which killed about 250 people. It was the highest toll from a single bombing in more than a decade of chaos following the war which toppled Saddam.
Blair and Bush “must be put to trial as they have ruined Iraq with their lies. It turned out there were no weapons of mass destruction,” Jabouri said.
The head of Iraq’s parliamentary foreign affairs committee, Hassan Khudhair, said people who suffered in the conflict deserved reparation.
“In Iraq, many people, civilians and military, were harmed by the war and the same happened in Britain. This means that compensation must be paid to the citizens and the country.”
However, others who suffered under Saddam said they were grateful to Washington and London.
“Overthrowing Saddam’s regime was a dream that came true thanks to the U.S. and Britain - and all those who say otherwise are liars,” said former political prisoner Faris Mohammed, 46, who was serving a life sentence in the southern Shi’ite city of Basra when the invasion took place.
Mowaffak al-Rubaiee, a member of parliament and former National Security Adviser, said the war was waged for a noble cause - to oust a tyrant.
“I personally told Tony Blair one time: ‘You are the greatest Brit in history for removing the dictator’,” he said. “Removing him gave us a true chance at democracy. The country was ruled by a single strongman and now we have a parliament and elections.”
But Abu Yasser, 67, a retired marketing manager at Iraqi Airways and a member of Iraq’s Sunni community, said Chilcot’s report offered little comfort to Iraqis marking the start of the Eid al-Fitr religious holiday on Wednesday, overshadowed once again by the violence which has plagued Iraq since 2003.
“Their investigation will not change our situation, it will not restore our Iraq and the people who are gone,” he said. “The war came and then the sectarian violence ... and Daesh,” he added, referring to Islamic State fighters who seized most of the country’s Sunni territories in 2014 and still control the northern city of Mosul.
“Now even the joy of Eid was taken from us in the bombing of Karrada,” Abu Yasser said.
Abdul Illah Risan, Baghdad’s Appeal Court General Prosecutor, said he rejected the Chilcot report as “it questions the legality of the war to depose Saddam.”
“Yes it is true that the war to oust the dictator has cost the Iraqi people a lot,” he said.
“But Iraqis feel grateful to all the coalition countries, and at the top are the United State and Great Britain because they simply gave Iraqis what they wished for and what they were deprived of since birth - which is freedom and democracy.”
Writing by Maher Chmaytelli; editing by Dominic Evans