In April 2003, US marines machine gunner Miles Hill was sitting on the back of an armoured vehicle as it rumbled towards the centre of Baghdad.
The 19-year-old had been told to prepare for “the bloodiest urban battle in Marine Corps history” as the US aimed to bring the war it started in Iraq to an end.
“Death was something on everyone’s mind,” says Miles, now a 38-year-old family man living in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma. “A few of us gave letters to our friends to give to our families in case we were about to die that day.”
Miles, like many American teenagers, had heard of Saddam Hussein – the Iraqi dictator who the US and Britain claimed possessed “weapons of mass destruction” – and expected heavy resistance as he set out to help occupy his capital city.
But as the marine and his fellow troops travelled towards Firdos Square in the centre of Baghdad, they were stunned to find the streets were almost completely deserted.
“Within 20 to 30 minutes of just pushing hard through the city, all of a sudden we were there, looking at the statue of Saddam in the square.”
Civilians began pouring into the area, with some trying to bring the statue down by smashing its marble plinth with sledgehammers. It was toppled minutes later with the help of a US tank which had anchored a chain around the neck of Saddam’s likeness.
It was a historic moment that was seen as the beginning of a promising new era in Iraq, but in the months and years that followed civil war broke out in the country where 60% of the population were Shia Muslims loyal to Iran – a longtime foe of the US. There was also no system of Iraqi government that was able to calm the instability that followed the American invasion.
“At 19 I thought we were bringing freedom and democracy, so there was a sense of pride and a huge sense of accomplishment… it’s something I reflect on with positivity, but as I get older it’s a more subjective happiness and not objective.”
Miles has shared his personal story from the centre of this historic event in Taking Down Saddam, episode 14 of StoryCast ’21, a Sky News podcast series telling 21 stories from the year 2000 to 2021.
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StoryCast ’21 is telling 21 personal stories from some of the biggest news events of the century.
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