When Iraq lost the war to Coalition Forces back in 2003 the iconic image was one of American soldiers tearing down a great bronze statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square. Soon after giant busts of his head were removed from the Palace of the Republican Guard. These destructions were symbols of victory, symbols of an end to tyranny. But in the half-war half-rebuilding period that followed, Iraqis were faced with hundreds more remnants of Hussein’s 24-year rule, monuments written in bronze and stone across the country. Was it right to tear them all down, thereby erasing any memory of the brutal dictator and his Baath regime, or should some of them remain to commemorate a past that really did happen?
Monuments of Saddam’s Iraq
1. Saddam’s Statue in Firdos Square
The first to go. US soldiers hauled the statue down with an M88 tank recovery vehicle, though it took a lot more effort than many US news stations showed, and spawned numerous accusations of ‘stage management’ on the part of the Army. At one point a US soldier climbed the ladder and draped a US flag over Saddam’s head, but soon took it off as the clamoring Iraqi’s (supporting the statue’s removal) voiced their disapproval. The image of the toppled statue became iconic and symbolic of victory, convincing many in Arab countries that Iraq had been defeated, when they had previously thought it was winning.
A soldier watches the statue bend.
Troops cloak his face with the US flag, briefly.
Iraqis let out their anger.
2. Saddam’s Giant Heads on the Palace of the Republican Guard
Four giant busts of Saddam Hussein once dominated the Baghdad sky-line. It took Coalition forces until December 2003, 8 months after the initial invasion, to tear them down, as their massive size (4 meters tall) and weight complicated matters. Eventually they were removed with cranes and melted down as scrap metal.
Lifting from the roof.
Facedown in the dirt.
3. Saddam’s Palaces; Al Faw, Jebel Makhoul
Richard Mosse, a photographer of devastated places, went around several of Saddam’s palaces focusing on the life that existed in them in 2009, producing chiefly images of American soldiers going about their lives as the palaces are still occupied by US tro0ps.
Troops rest around a dusted pool.
BBQ equipment in the palace portico.
Grand glory, air conditioners.
Pumping iron in the cloister.
4. The Hands of Victory, Swords of Qadisiyah
In 2005 the ‘Committee to Remove the Remains of the Baath Party and to Consider Building New Monuments and Murals’ was formed to make the determination of which of the larger monuments should go and which should stay. Already hundreds of smaller statues and monuments throughout the streets and cities of the country had been torn down, and Hussein’s face had been taken off the dinar, but still hundreds remained. One of the first to receive wide controversy was the ‘Hands of Victory’.
Built in 1989, these two immense triumphal arches stand at either end of a wide parade ground in a central Baghdad park, now part of the Green Zone. Each sword is 140 meters long and weighs 24 tons, gripped by a fist based on plaster casts of Saddam’s own hands, with even his own enlarged thumb-print added. They were built to commemorate ‘victory’ in the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), despite the fact that construction was started 2 years before the war ended, and the fact that the war was widely thought to have ended in a ‘stalemate’. The swords are said to have been built after a design sketched by Hussein himself, using metal smelted from the armor and weaponry of fallen Iraqi soldiers. Tumbling under nets at the base of each hand are hundreds of helmets, said to be looted from Iranian corpses from the battlefield. Accordingly many of them are cracked and have bullet-holes.
Controversy over the Hands began in 2007, as the Prime Minister slated them for demolition. However he was over-ruled by the US Ambassador, who reportedly feared their destruction would widen the rift between Iraq’s Shiite majority and its Sunni minority. Now American soldiers clamber up inside the hollow hands to have their souvenir photos taken.
The ghost of Saddam is everywhere.
Modeled on Saddam’s own hands.
Helmets of dead Iranian soldiers about the base.
5. The Martyr’s Monument- al Shaheed
The Martyr’s monument looks a split blue onion-dome, quite massive and built in 1983 to commemorate Iraqi soldiers who died in the war with Iran. A museum, library, cafeteria, lecture hall and exhibition gallery are located in two levels underneath the domes. There are currently no plans to demolish this site, but its long-term future is certainly in some doubt.
An eternal flame burns in the center.
Very tall flag.
In a monument park.
6. Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Another monument to the war with Iran, representing a traditional shield (diraa) dropping from the dying grasp of an Iraqi warrior. Beneath the giant canopy of the shield is a large cube made of seven layers of metal, said to represent the seven levels of Heaven in the Islamic faith. Inside the layers of metal are sheets of red acrylic, said to represent the blood of the slain Iraqi soldiers. Iraqi soldiers currently guard the monument, though will grant access to the underground museum if requested. The underground museum is not currently lighted, except for the light that shines in from the windows above and through the doors (when opened). Visitors must bring their own flashlights to view the now-empty cases that once held numerous war relics.
A toppled ‘diraa’ shield.
View into the jagged cube.
An Iraqi soldier patrols.
7 layers of the cube.
Bottom left are the swords arches, center right the Tomb to the Unknown Soldier.
7- The Tikrit Bush-Shoe
In December 2008 President Bush went on a ‘victory lap’ of countries he’d invaded, ending up in Baghdad’s Green Zone, where a reporter at a press conference pulled off his shoes and hurled them at the President. Bush of course dodged, but the incident became infamous, both for the insulting nature of hurling a shoe at the President of the United States, and for Bush’s cat-like reflexes and cheeky grin. Early in 2009 a sofa-sized statue of the shoe was unveiled in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s birthplace.
The Bush-shoe monument, with a bush growing out of it.
RUINS / HAIKYO
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