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.
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 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 on 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 21-metre 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.
Four "doors" to the monument pay tribute to the style of the Abbasids, who founded Baghdad in 762 AD.
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.
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.
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
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