BAGHDAD, April 9 — Swept aside by U.S. troops who drove through the streets of Baghdad, President Saddam Hussein’s government collapsed today, ending three decades of ruthless Baath Party rule that sought to make Iraq the champion of a modern Arab world but left a legacy of fear, poverty and bitterness.
As U.S. Army troops occupied the west bank of the Tigris River and U.S. Marines rolled into the eastern part of the city, facing only scattered resistance, thousands of Baghdad residents poured into the streets to celebrate the government’s defeat and welcome the U.S. forces in scenes of thanks and jubilation.
With pent-up fury, the crowds also rampaged through offices of the government and state-owned companies, lugging away everything from plastic chairs to Toyota pickups once doled out as patronage. In festive moments, others tested their newfound freedoms, engaging in noisy debates in the street and denouncing Hussein in words that would have brought a death sentence only days ago.
The feared Baath Party apparatus disappeared from the streets. Its junior officials and militia fighters, once posted at every intersection, were nowhere to be seen. Many were said to have changed into civilian clothes to escape detection. Party uniforms and weapons were scattered at sandbagged positions that only days ago had been vaunted as the heart of a bloody last stand. Along some streets, military vehicles stood bleak and deserted, testimony that a once-efficient administration had come to a halt.
The fall of Baghdad — and its celebration by thousands of Iraqis eager to heap scorn on their leader — marked a climactic moment and a clear turning point in the war launched by the Bush administration 21 days ago to take down Hussein’s government and rid Iraq of what U.S. officials said was a store of weapons of mass destruction.
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