Both ABC and CBS on Monday night used the fourth anniversary of the toppling of the Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad as a chance to highlight the regret of a man who used a sledgehammer to destroy the pedestal. After starting her story with anti-U.S. protests inspired by Moqtada al-Sadr, ABC's Hilary Brown, presumably referring to ABC's March poll of Iraqis, asserted that “the appalling bloodshed has turned most Iraqis -- 78 percent -- against the occupation. Thirty-six percent now say that life is worse than it ever was under the dictator.” She proceeded to focus on how “one Iraqi in particular remembers, and now regrets, that iconic moment four years ago when the huge statute of Saddam Hussein was toppled.” Brown relayed how Khadim Yabani “says 'but now I just feel regret because nothing has improved.' That's why he says it would have been better that Saddam had never been overthrown.” On the CBS Evening News, Martin Seemungal, before he highlighted Yabani, at least acknowledged that “in some places, like in the southern city of Basra, people were out celebrating the anniversary.”
Meanwhile, ABC's World News led with Diane Sawyer in Afghanistan where she suggested misplaced priorities as she pointed out that “on this anniversary of the fall of Baghdad, the leaders here note the U.S. has spent some four-times the amount in Iraq, per person, as in the place the fight against terrorism started.” Sawyer reminded Afghan President Hamid Karzai of how “you have said if the U.S. had given Afghanistan what it spent in Iraq, it would be like 'heaven' here. Did the U.S. give too little? In your view?" Karzai refused to take Sawyer's bait, responding: “We are grateful to the American people, to the taxpayers, for having helped Afghanistan, in a big way.”
Sawyer's exchange with Karzai as played on the April 9 World News:
Diane Sawyer: “On this anniversary of the fall of Baghdad, the leaders here note the U.S. has spent some four-times the amount in Iraq, per person, as in the place the fight against terrorism started.”
Sawyer to Hamid Karzai: “You have said if the U.S. had given Afghanistan what it spent in Iraq, it would be like 'heaven' here. Did the U.S. give too little? In your view?”
Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan: “The world as a whole -- other crises [probably meant 'countries'] in the world pay us little. We are grateful to the American people, to the taxpayers, for having helped Afghanistan, in a big way.”
Sawyer: “Do you have enough American and NATO troops?”
Karzai: “No. We don't have enough manpower or enough equipment or air power.”
Last September on Meet the Press Karzai had asserted: “Three hundred billion dollars? You give that to Afghanistan and we will be heaven in less than a year.”
CBS Evening News. After starting with the anti-U.S. protests, and noting how there was celebration in Basra, Martin Seemungal concluded his piece with the toppling of the Saddam Hussein statue:
“Remember the loan Iraqi battering it with a sledge hammer?”
Khadim Yabani, through translator: “It was my wish in life to destroy the statue.”
Seemungal: “That was Khadim Yabani. He remembers that moment as if it were yesterday.”
Yabani, through translator: “We were so happy we had got rid of the tyrant.”
Seemungal: “Now he spends most of his time in his shop working on old motorcycles. But business is slow. There's more demand for heavily armored vehicles in Baghdad than for Harley-Davidsons.”
Yabani, through translator: “We are going into the fifth year and we are suffering from problems more than we used to suffer in Saddam's time.”
Seemungal concluded: “The memory of that triumphant moment is fading fast. Martin Seemungal for CBS News, Baghdad.”
ABC's World News. Charles Gibson set up the anniversary story, which followed Sawyer's lead report from Afghanistan:
“Next, to Iraq. This is a major anniversary there. It was four years ago today that Saddam Hussein's statue came down in Baghdad's Fardus Square. There were many in the streets that day. There were many in the streets today. But for a different reason. ABC's Hilary Brown is in Baghdad."
Hilary Brown: "Tens of thousands of protesters converged on the holy city of Najaf in a sea of Iraqi flags to demand an immediate end to the U.S. occupation. A cleric on stage shouted, 'Get out, get out, occupier!' as the mainly Shiite crowd roared in assent. The protest was ordered by the powerful Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr, believed by U.S. officials to be in Iran. But in a statement, he called on Iraqis to stop fighting each other and unite against American troops. Authorities imposed a ban on cars, trucks, even motorcycles, in both Baghdad and Najaf. The fear was that the rally could become a target for bombers. The 24-hour traffic ban before and after the demonstration seems to have worked.
“There was little violence today. And that is rare in a country where ordinary people are being shot or blown up at the rate of 100 a day. The appalling bloodshed has turned most Iraqis -- 78 percent -- against the occupation. Thirty-six percent now say that life is worse than it ever was under the dictator.
“One Iraqi in particular remembers, and now regrets, that iconic moment four years ago when the huge statute of Saddam Hussein was toppled in Fardus Square. Khadim Yabani is a former weightlifter whose great strength helped bring the statue down. 'At the time, I was proud,' he says, 'but now I just feel regret because nothing has improved.' That's why he says it would have been better that Saddam had never been overthrown. The U.S. military said today that if Saddam were still in power, a protest like this one would not have been possible. Hilary Brown, ABC News, Baghdad."
Just last week, ABC's World News uniquely featured a report from Terry McCarthy on “improvements” in security and living conditions for the people of Iraq. Brad Wilmouth's NewsBusters item on that April 3 story.