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Decade on, Iraq to replace iconic Saddam statue

06 september 2012, 10:21
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Iraq artist Abass Gharib's model of a statue he designed to be erected in Baghdad's al-Firdus square. ©AFP
Iraq artist Abass Gharib's model of a statue he designed to be erected in Baghdad's al-Firdus square. ©AFP
Nearly a decade after Saddam Hussein's statue was pulled down in an iconic moment seen globally, Baghdad will finally replace it with new artwork to mark its selection as the 2013 Arab Capital of Culture, AFP reports.

It is the latest in efforts by authorities to promote the country and the capital, which this year marks 1,250 years since its founding. Baghdad played host to a landmark Arab summit in March, followed by talks between world powers and Iran in May over the Islamic republic's nuclear programme.

Baghdad's selection as Arab Capital of Culture also gives the country a chance to make up for its failure to ready Najaf in time for it to take over as 2012 Islamic Capital of Culture, with the latter honour marred by delayed projects and allegations of corruption.

Organisers of the Baghdad cultural capital project are planning to erect 19 new statues, monuments and memorials across the city to highlight its cultural heritage and to mark late artists and cultural icons.

But chief among them will be Abbas Gharib's monument, to be erected at Firdos Square in the centre of the city, where for decades a giant bronze statue of of Saddam Hussein stood until it was pulled down with the help of US marines on April 9 2003, in a scene witnessed around the world via television.

Gharib will replace what is left of that statue -- just the metal replicas of his feet -- with an architectural ode to the past millennium in Iraq at the square, named after the Arabic word for paradise.

"The monument reflects the idea that Iraq is a unified country," Gharib said.

The 21-metre (69 feet) cylindrical monument, a scale model of which Gharib showed off at a recent culture ministry news conference, flares at the top in 18 arches, symbolising the country's provinces.

Rounding the monument off is another cylinder of bronze, through which one can trace the history of Iraq -- through the Mesopotamian, Sumerian and Babylonian civilisations.

-- 'Still a source of enlightenment' --

Four "doors" to the monument pay tribute to the style of the Abbasids, who founded Baghdad in 762 AD.

Surrounding it will be gardens, while lights inside that will point to the sky to show that "Iraq is still a source of enlightenment for mankind," according to Gharib.

Other statues and memorials around Baghdad will pay tribute to late cultural icons, such as Kamal Shia, who was assassinated in 2008, the poet Nazik al-Malaika, killed in 2007, and the intellectual Ali al-Wardi.

"I think this is the first time Iraq has paid tribute to these figures of culture and heritage," said Abdul Qader Saadi al-Jumaili, culture ministry spokesman.

Authorities also plan to build an opera house, theatres, concert halls, and ultimately to restore a city struck by years of violence and, before the invasion, crippling international sanctions throughout which maintenance of its heritage took a back seat to other more urgent priorities.

The city has already taken some early steps to restore its former glory -- in preparation for the March Arab summit, new grass and palm trees were planted along the airport road, referred to by US troops as "RPG alley" for the frequency of rocket-propelled grenade attacks during the worst of the violence.

And several of Baghdad's hotels were renovated, roads were paved, and villas were built.

Still, for all the planned improvements to the city's dilapidated infrastructure and the additions to its parks and public squares, Gharib's new monument on Firdos Square is likely to have special significance.

"Leaders come and go, but Iraq will always belong to the Iraqis," he said.

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