BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Welcome to Baghdad. The pictures broadcast in the United States and around the world this week showing the Iraqi people, with the help of U.S. Marines, tearing down Firdos Square's 40-foot statue of the dictator who brutalized this country for 24 years were magnificent. But those pictures are only symbolic of the real appreciation that is being showered upon U.S. forces by the Iraqi people in this capital city and around the country.
While we are proud to be liberating another people from tyranny, it is still difficult for us, as Americans, to appreciate the relief and exhilaration of the Iraqi people who have suffered under this brutal regime for so long. Imagine living every day in fear of imprisonment, torture, rape, execution. These people were unable to speak, write or travel freely and lived with the constant fear that the secret police might -- for little or no reason -- snatch you up in the middle of the night.
Those who met such a fate were either executed, or thrown in squalid prison cells for months only to be tortured by having their feet beaten, or being hooked up to battery cables or deprived of food and water. And, if sleep was permitted, it was only in their own waste. Imagine having your children taken from you or your daughter summoned to one of Saddam's son's palaces only to have her innocence violently stolen. Under Saddam, too many Iraqis suffered the indignity of having their children imprisoned or being forced to watch their wives being raped. Imagine living under such fear and repression one day and the next day being liberated from it.
Maybe that explains why leaders of the Baath Party who carried out such brutality are now, in some cases, the targets of retribution. Some have had their homes looted or businesses taken over. Others are not as fortunate. In Baghdad, a Baath Party official was hanging from a light pole on a street corner. He had a placard around his neck indicating that could be the fate for others if they are caught.
But mostly, the Iraqi people are celebrating their liberation by welcoming the Marines and other U.S. forces with open arms. I was with the 5th and 7th Marines as they entered Baghdad and were greeted by little kids walking up to them and handing them flowers. It is one of the most moving things I've seen so far in this war -- children greeting their liberators with flowers and homemade American flags. We've seen it several times, and it's the kind of thing that gets you choked up because the people are so thrilled to get rid of this brutal regime.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.