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Saddam Statues, Souvenirs Await Their Fate

Now that thousands of Saddam Hussein likenesses have been decapitated, bashed with shoes and hammers, dragged through the streets and blown to bits, archaeologists and culturalists wonder what might become of all the remains.

Just what do you do with all those busted-up statues, portraits and murals?

Most guess they will simply be destroyed, and the remnants abandoned or recycled. Some predict they’ll be collected and hawked. Others wonder if they’ll wind up in a museum to remind the world of the horrors of one of history’s most brutal dictators.

“You’ll probably see a lot of them taken down, abandoned,” said Peter Singer, a foreign policy expert at the Brookings Institution. “The best model is what happened in eastern Europe with the variety of Lenin statues everywhere.”

Saddam statue pieces could, of course, become the next hot commodity on eBay.

“You might find Saddam’s nose on there,” said Gary Hoppenstand, professor of American thought and language at Michigan State University.

There were tens of thousands of images of Saddam displayed throughout Iraq during his rule. But even before Wednesday’s historic scenes of Iraqis demolishing a 40-foot high bronze statue of the dictator in downtown Baghdad, troops and citizens had already vandalized dozens if not hundreds of other likenesses.

Some art historians think it would be beneficial to preserve at least a few of the beaten sculptures as examples of propaganda art and its psychological effect on people.

“My own hope is that just for the general culture and history of the world, at least some pieces survive,” said Ellen Shapiro, professor of architectural history at Massachusetts College of Art. “It would be interesting to have [a statue] in its present state after people have been stomping on it.”

But experts agree trashing and tearing down the omnipresent statues -- which towered over Iraqis across the country to remind them who was boss -- is an important symbolic act.

“The significance is not in trying to preserve a fragment but in seeing it destroyed,” Hoppenstand said. “The destruction of the [Baghdad] statue was symbolic of the destruction of the regime.”

Russell predicted many of the statue fragments will wind up being put to other uses in the future. “Usually after a conflict when images are destroyed that way, they end up in the melting pot, recycled as something else."

Some will undoubtedly keep the broken statue bits as souvenirs -- or sell them. “I’m sure there is probably some soldier right now packing the hand of Saddam in his knapsack,” Singer said. “After every war, paraphernalia and artifacts will be sold.”

EBay junkies will likely find some of the sculpture fragments -- or at least supposed sculpture fragments -- for sale on the site.

“It wouldn’t surprise me,” said Kevin Pursglove, the online auction company’s senior director of communications. “When an event becomes the center of a great deal of media attention, almost instantaneously you’ll see items related to that event appearing on eBay.”

Pursglove said eBay executives will monitor the war-related sales closely to make sure the items are authentic and not offensive.

In fact, this may not have been the first time the people of what is today Iraq have rebelled against the images of their oppressors. A 2300 B.C. copper statue of the head of a former Iraqi king was apparently badly defaced centuries ago, before it was salvaged and exhibited.

“Someone had gouged out the eyes, cut off the beard, cut off its ears and smashed in its nose,” said John Malcolm Russell, an art historian and archeologist at Massachusetts College of Art. “They were killing it.”