How Saddam Hussein Was Erased from the History of Baghdad

by Andrew Wright
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Qaiss al-Sharaa, an Iraqi hairdresser, likes to share a special story. It happened on April 9, 2003 in Firdos Square of Baghdad. On that day, Iraqis and Marines joined together to take down a very tall statue (39ft tall) of Saddam Hussein’s right arm being extended out. This same statue was built only one year earlier to celebrate the 65th birthday of the dictator.

When the American troops toppled Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad, there were a lot of people from different parts of Iraq who wanted to experience freedom. Everyone was scared of this man’s face that was depicted on the statue.

In 2003, the US-led invasion of Iraq was famously broadcast live on TV. People watched as Marines used a vehicle to pull down a statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square. This became an important symbol of his rule ending after 25 years. In truth, though, this was only one small part of all the monuments and palaces that Saddam had built during his rule to show off his power.

The statues and images of Saddam Hussein, who ruled Iraq for 20 years, are all gone now. A lot of his palaces and other buildings were changed and used differently by the people in the new Iraq. But a lot of the hope that came with removing Saddam’s control is not there anymore because after that there was a lot of violence and then the economy got ruined and corruption rose up among some leaders in Iraq.

Firdos Square has been changed into a small park with help from private banks. On top of the building in the square hangs a big painting of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and Imam Hussein, who is also related to the Prophet Muhammad. This art reflects the religion that most governs Baghdad – an Iran-backed Shiite faith which exists everywhere around the city.

A person named al-Sharaa said that the garden that replaced Saddam’s makes it look like Iraq is doing well, but there’s actually still a lot of corruption. He also said you don’t miss Saddam’s rule, but you do miss when law and order were in place. Families don’t like taking their kids to this square because it can get dangerous at night – full of drug dealers. Most of the Saddam statue has disappeared, with only some small pieces taken away by tourists as souvenirs.

In 2003, a group of U.S. Marines from Utah said they sawed off the right hand of Saddam Hussein’s statue and tried to bring it back to their home on a military flight. Sadly, it was gone when they reached home, but luckily they had taken a photo with them holding it like a trophy. Later in 2016, an antiques dealer bought the left leg for over $100,000 and sold it via eBay. Additionally, Nigel Ely wrote a book about another part of the statue called Saddam’s buttock which he attempted to auction off for charity but unfortunately received unsatisfying offers.

Saddam put a lot of effort into making sure people knew he was in charge by building big monuments and putting his face on buildings and statues. Renad Mansour from the Chatham House shared with the AP that Saddam “wanted to show off his power” so that people would remember it.

Saddam Hussein built two monuments, the Victory Arch and the al-Shaheed Monument, that can still be seen by the Tigris River. The Victory Arch is shaped like two giant hands holding crossed swords and the al-Shaheed Monument has two large half-domes that are turquoise in color. Both of these monuments were built to remember people who died fighting in Iraq’s war with Iran in the 1980s.

Saddam Hussein built the al-Faw Palace on an island in a fake lake in the 1990s to celebrate his win of a peninsula after a fight. After 2003, it became the U.S. coalition military headquarters known as ‘Camp Victory’. Later, Iraqi businessperson Saadi Saihood helped fund this palace which is now called the American University in Baghdad.

Saddam’s mark is still around the campus. You can still see his initials on some of the walls and ceilings. There’s also a lake that contains a really special fish called “Saddam bass”.

Dr. Dawn Dekle, Vice President of AUB, thinks it’s important to save the university’s past and history. She wants the university to help Iraq keep its young people from leaving the country. She said, “The people who already left are now sending their kids back to experience Iraq too.” Anything related to Saddam Hussein has been removed completely.

One day after the Firdos Square statue was removed, some Kurds in the city of Kirkuk removed a statue of Saddam Hussein. In the process, they hit it with their shoes and celebrated their freedom from someone who had been unfair to them for a long time. This included something called a genocide where many innocent people were hurt. The statue was replaced with images of Kurdish leaders such as Massoud Barzani, who led the Kurdish autonomous area from 2005 until 2017.

In Baghdad, a major Shi’ite area was given the name Saddam City. The former leader of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, did many bad things to stop resistance from the Shiites, and he even put up a big mural with his picture on it in this part of town as an expression of power.

In June 2003, lots of Shiites attended a special ceremony to change the name of the district to Sadr City. In addition, a new wall-painting was unveiled which included Mohammed-Baqir al-Sadr and Mohammed-Sadiq al-Sadr, two important Shiites who were killed by Saddam Hussein because they wouldn’t agree with his laws.

Muqtada al-Sadr is the son-in-law and son of two very important people. He has a huge following that fought against US troops after Saddam Hussain’s fall. Today, he’s a big leader in Iraq who portrays himself as an outsider not related to other political parties with close ties to Iran. Sadr City is his base city with millions of poor Shiites supporting him.

Thalal Moussa was a teenager when he attended a renaming ceremony that made him feel happy and hopeful. He said he felt like the darkness had gone away and the light was in its place. Now, 37 year-old Thalal works at an electricity company but unfortunately, the country has been under control of a corrupt ‘junta’ for 20 years now.

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