COMMENTS: Sadr or Saddam?

The fourth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad--when that huge statue of dictator Saddam Hussein was toppled--inspired massive anti-occupation protests in Najaf by supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr. All three networks covered the protest from Baghdad, where a 24-hour curfew had been imposed. CBS' Martin Seemungal observed that, again, the Shiite al-Sadr "has proved that he commands an enormous following among Iraq's largest religious group." NBC's Mike Taibbi noted that the Yankee Go Home rally included Iraqi soldiers and police officers in uniform: al-Sadr's message urged both "to join his followers in fighting American forces."

Both ABC and CBS tracked down Khadim Yabani, the Iraqi weightlifter who featured prominently in that day's photojournalism back in 2003. He was the one who swung the sledgehammer against the statue's pedestal before the Marine Corps pulled it down. "We are going into the fifth year and we are suffering from problems more than we used to suffer in Saddam's time," he told CBS' Seemungal. He told ABC's Hilary Brown (subscription required): "At the time I was proud but now I just feel regret because nothing has improved. It would have been better that Saddam had never been overthrown." Brown then gave the official US military view: "If Saddam had still been in power, the protest would not have been possible."

NBC led with Iraq coverage, but not with the Sadrist rally. Jim Miklaszewski reported that Gen David Petraeus had requested that the Pentagon approve a continuation of the troop build-up in Baghdad by slowing down rotations. Petraeus has asked that four brigades, 18,000 troops, have their year-long tour in Iraq extended by four months. "The surge has put the USArmy under even greater stress," mused Miklaszewski.


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