Iraqi monuments still standing

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The majority of monuments erected in Iraq by Saddam Hussein have been destroyed or defaced, but some still stand. The fate of those remaining monuments has pitted preservationists against Iraqis eager to forget the past and move on. Susannah George reports from Baghdad.

LISA MULLINS: There's another hotly debated topic in Iraq right now. It's whether to destroy or preserve the statues and monuments erected by Saddam Hussein. The majority of Saddam's memorials already have been defaced or destroyed. Probably the most memorable was the American-orchestrated toppling of a Saddam statue in Baghdad's Firdous square. But numerous statues from the former regime still stand. The fate of these statues has pitted preservationists against other Iraqis eager to forget the past and move on. Susannah George has more from Baghdad.

SUSANNAH GEORGE: 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 meeting statue once stood here, in Baghdad's Monsoor neighborhood. The statue has two curved walls leaning towards one another. It was meant to symbolize unity between Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi people. Only a few other baath-era statues remain in Baghdad. The most prominent of them are the victory arches, the monument to the Unknown Solider and the martyrs' monument. The artworks' fate is hotly contested. Salah Abdilrazaq is the mayor of Baghdad. He argues that even now, feelings about the former regime are still raw, and that the monuments should be taken down.

SALAH ABDILRAZAQ: These people they cannot forget because still they suffer from that period and still they have mark from it now we should repair the soul and then give these people new values, a new system. That's what we need now.

KARIM WASFI: I understand how sensitive it is.

GEORGE: Karim Wasfi is the conductor of the Iraqi National symphony and a leading Iraqi cultural figure.

WASFI: They should stay because at some point in history, we don't want to reshape history and change stories.

GEORGE: Wasfi argues that keeping the monuments would be a show of strength on the part of Iraqis.

WASFI: 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.

GEORGE: Taking down the monuments appears to have wide-ranging political support. The Iraqi parliament voted to destroy the victory arches. But that was nearly two years ago and the arches still stand. That monument, known as the crossed swords, was Saddam's commemoration of the great victory of the Iran-Iraq War. The gigantic swords are held by hands said to have been modeled after Saddam's own. And at the base of each hand are piles of helmets from Iranian soldiers. Standing in Baghdad's Olympic district, the Martyrs' monument is a stark contrast to the crossed swords. The monument commemorates Iraqi soldiers killed in the Iran-Iraq war. It is two off-set halves of an elegant turquoise tiled dome resembling a tear-drop surrounded by parks and an artificial lake. Ali Abdullah is a guard at the site. He immediately draws a distinction between different memorials.


GEORGE: Abdullah says that monuments like the crossed swords should be taken away or destroyed because they glorify Saddam and his power. He built them for himself, not for the Iraqi people. But this Martyrs' monument here, he says, is for the Iraqi people who gave their lives to their country so it should stay. Another guard at the Martyrs' monument says he's not bothered by any of the statues from the former regime. His father was hanged by Saddam Hussein in 1989, but he says the statues are important, beautiful landmarks in Baghdad and they should remain standing. Abdilrazaq, the mayor of Baghdad, suggests a compromise.

ABDILRAZAQ: Keep it in the museums. If anybody want to see it, that is his choice.

GEORGE: For now the monuments still dot the capital's landscape. Before Iraqis decide what to do with the statues, they will need to make some tough decisions about how they're going to treat their own history and what kind of a country the new Iraq will be. For the World, I'm Susannah George.