Saddam statues are melted down|
FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) — When Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq, a pair of monuments stood as symbols of his iron-fisted domination: towering bronze statues depicting a heroic Saddam as the mighty conqueror, on horseback, sword aloft.
But U.S. troops blew the statues off their pedestals after the invasion of Iraq, giving the soldiers who pulled Saddam out of his hiding hole a keepsake to bring home.
The 50-foot-tall statues were melted down and recast by a skilled Iraqi artist who turned them into a new memorial that depicts a GI mourning his fallen comrades while a young girl tries to console him.
The new statue, mounted on a black granite base, is the centerpiece of an Iraq war memorial being built outside the 4th Infantry Division's museum at Fort Hood in central Texas.
"It goes back to the old days when you would take your enemy's cannons and melt them down to make your statues," said retired Sgt. Maj. Chuck Fuss, who served in Iraq as the division's top enlisted man.
The memorial, to be dedicated in August, also includes a 5-foot-high wall that will bear plaques for each 4th Infantry soldier killed.
The museum plans to showcase other tributes from the Iraq war as well, including the suitcase Saddam used to store bundles of $100 bills before his capture by a detachment of 4th Infantry soldiers in December.
The museum also plans to get a head, arm and sword from one of the Saddam statues toppled in Tikrit. One of the defining images of the war occurred when jubilant Iraqis toppled a different Saddam monument — a 40-foot-tall statue in Baghdad.
Ceilia Stratton, curator of the museum, says the unfinished memorial is already attracting a lot of attention.
"It just amazes me how people just gravitate to that site — it's like a magnet," she said.
The soldier in the memorial kneels in front of a traditional Army display for a fallen fighter: an M-16 rifle pointing downward with a helmet resting on top and a pair of boots neatly positioned in front.
Standing behind the mourner is a small girl in a dress, holding a rose in her right hand and reaching out to pat the soldier's shoulder with her left hand.
"Everyone who saw it said that was the best thing we could have ever done," Fuss said. "We've seen grown men and women with tears in their eyes looking at it."
The man who shaped the statue was the same sculptor who had helped create the Saddam statues. Khalid Alussy, a small, wiry man in his late 20s from Tikrit, said he built the original statues despite being a Saddam opponent.
"I made the statues of Saddam, even though I didn't want to, because I needed the money for my family and to finish my education," he told the Wall Street Journal this year. "And I decided to make statues for the Americans for the exact same reasons."
The Internet is peppered with stories that Alussy worked for free as a token of his gratitude to U.S. troops. But Fuss says the artist's real incentive was a hefty payday. Originally the sculptor agreed to $8,000, but by the time the little girl was added the cost was up to $22,000, Fuss said. The memorial was paid for primarily through donations from soldiers.
"He was a nice man, but he didn't do this out of the kindness of his heart," Fuss said. "He found him, we hired him and he raised the price on us three times."
Efforts by The Associated Press to reach Alussy by e-mail this week were not successful.
Larry Polley Sr., whose son Larry Jr. was a 4th Infantry soldier killed in January, said the memorial is a fitting tribute to those who did not return from the war.
"They deserve that," he said Wednesday from his home in Center, Texas. "They lost their lives and I feel like they should never be forgotten about."
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