The Marine Behind American Flag Controversy

ByABC News via logo
April 10, 2003, 8:30 AM

B A G H D A D, Iraq, April 10 -- It took Cpl. Edward Chin just seconds to hang an American flag on the head of Saddam Hussein's statue in central Baghdad, but it's a move that's likely to be debated for years to come.

The mood of Iraqi civilians was briefly muted in Baghdad Wednesday as Chin climbed up and covered Saddam's face with an American flag.

The crowd's loud cheers faded, and in less than a minute the Stars and Stripes was removed from the massive statue and replaced with Iraq's black, white and red flag.

Chin's move touched a sensitive chord among Arabs and irritated U.S. military leaders who want Iraqis to view U.S. forces as liberators, not occupiers.

Chin, of the 3rd battalion, 4th Marines regiment, says he was just following orders in the minutes before the statue was pulled to the ground in a joint effort by jubilant Iraqis and U.S. troops.

Following Orders

"I was just trying my best to get the chain around his neck and put the flag on his head," Chin told ABCNEWS' Good Morning America. "Pretty much at the moment I was just doing what I was told to do by my commanding officer," he said.

The televised gesture drew mixed reactions around the world and anger from a commentator on the Arab news network al Arabiya.

"That should have been the Iraqi flag," said an al Arabiya announcer.

U.S. military leaders have set boundaries on American flag displays in an effort to avoid provoking Arab emotions over the war in Iraq. U.S. troops have been ordered not to display flags, whether the American flag or those of their military unit, in Iraq.

When Marines briefly raised the flag after moving into the southern Iraqi city of Umm Qasr in late March, the commander of the war in Iraq Gen. Tommy Franks said he was pleased with their decision to removed the flag quickly.

"I think that, in zeal, people will want to represent that they have achieved a certain milestone," he said, following the Umm Qasr incident. "And if you're from our country, then one of the first things that can pop into the young man's mind is to raise his national colors." But, Franks said, the job "had to do with liberation and not occupation."