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Marine: Flag a symbol of liberation, not occupation

Chin: Iraqis were
Chin: Iraqis were "exhuberant"

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CNN's Paula Zahn talks with Cpl. Edward Chin, a U.S. Marine who placed an American flag on a statue of Saddam Hussein.
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Hundreds of Iraqis celebrated as they destroyed a statue of Saddam in central Baghdad.
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Celebrations in the city that is home to the largest U.S. population of Iraqi exiles.
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A U.S. Marine told CNN Thursday he meant no disrespect when he draped an American flag over the face of a statue of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in a central Baghdad square before the Marines tied the statue to a tank recovery vehicle and pulled it down.

Many Arabs both in and out of Iraq were displeased with the display Wednesday before the Marines toppled the statue, saying the act came too close to declaring a U.S. occupation of Baghdad.

But Cpl. Edward Chin told CNN's Paula Zahn that the display of the American stars and stripes, and the subsequent removal of that flag and hanging of a pre-Gulf War Iraqi flag, were "more like a symbol that we were here to give (Iraqis) their country back."

"They wanted a flag on his head, the American flag," Chin said. "They brought it up to me and I put it on there for a brief moment.

"The Iraqi crowd, they were egging us on," he said. "They were happy to see us do it. We took it down after a brief moment and put their flag up."

The corporal removed the Iraqi flag before the Marines fired up their armored tank recovery vehicle and dragged the statue down.

The Marines joined the effort to pull down the Firdos Square statue -- erected last April for the Iraqi president's 65th birthday -- when it became clear a small group of Iraqis would not be able to bring it down on their own.

"We pretty much saw the Iraqi people trying to pull down the statue," Chin said. "They couldn't do it with just a rope, and our commanding officer gave us the go-ahead to give them a hand."

The Marines had rolled into Firdos Square earlier Wednesday, unimpeded by Iraqi forces who had vanished overnight from the area, along with most Iraqi officials.

Chin said the Iraqis were "exuberant" when the statue fell, eventually "ripping its head off" and dragging it through the streets.

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