Saving Saddam’s Iraqi monuments

The World

This story was originally covered by PRI’s The World. For more, listen to the audio above.

Under the 24-year dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, buildings and public squares across Baghdad were adorned with the name and image of the Iraqi leader. Saddam also erected statues commemorating Arab unity and the Iran-Iraq war.

The majority of those monuments already have been defaced or destroyed. Probably the most memorable was the American-orchestrated toppling of a Saddam statue in Baghdad’s Firdous square.

An argument is currently raging in Iraq over whether to preserve or destroy the few remaining memorials. The mayor of Baghdad, Salah Abdilrazaq, argues that even now, feelings about the former regime are still raw, and that the monuments should be taken down.

“These people they cannot forget because still they suffer from that period and still they have mark from it,” Abdilrazaq told PRI’s The World. “Now we should repair the soul and then give these people new values, a new system. That’s what we need now.”

Others disagree. Karim Wasfi, the conductor of the Iraqi National symphony and a leading Iraqi cultural figure, says: “They should stay because at some point in history, we don’t want to reshape history and change stories.” He told The World:

We will never forget some of the atrocities or problems or crimes. This is, of course, impossible, but we can convey a message that we can actually — we have survived that and we just look ahead. We just look ahead. I mean there’s no point demolishing, just denying the whole experience and just keep it as memories.

Taking down the monuments appears to have wide-ranging political support. The Iraqi parliament voted to destroy the so called “Victory Arches” — Saddam’s commemoration of the great victory of the Iran-Iraq War. But that was nearly two years ago and the arches still stand.

Abdilrazaq, the mayor of Baghdad, suggests a compromise: “Keep it in the museums. If anybody want to see it, that is his choice.” For now, however, the monuments to Saddam still stand, leaving some uncomfortable questions about how Iraqis will treat their own history and what kind of a country the new Iraq will be.

PRI’s “The World” is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. “The World” is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston.

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