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March 08, 2004

The 4th ID War Memorial?

The story is more interesting than previously reported. Excerpts from the article in today's Wall Street Journal:

In This Monument To Dead, The Medium Really Is The Message

Hussein Statue Is Melted To Honor U.S. Soldiers; Artist Works in Secret

By Yochi J. Dreazen, Staff Reporter Of The Wall Street Journal

TIKRIT, Iraq -- Forehead resting on his palm, a weary American soldier kneels before a makeshift memorial -- a fallen comrade's helmet, rifle and boots. Nearby, a young Iraqi girl reaches for his shoulder to comfort him.

Officers from the U.S. Army's Fourth Infantry Division commissioned a life-size bronze sculpture of the tableau to honor dozens of troops the unit has lost in its 11 months in Iraq. Thanks to an unusual choice of sculptor -- and an unusual source of bronze -- the officers added a touch of poetic justice to the work.

(snippage)

Searching for a talented local sculptor to carry out Sgt. Fuss's vision, the Americans asked an Iraqi contractor if he knew any. The contractor recommended Khalid Alussy, a thin 27-year-old with a quick laugh. Asked about his sculpting experience, Mr. Alussy told the officers that some of his work was right outside the division's temporary base, one of Mr. Hussein's presidential palace compounds here in the deposed leader's hometown.

He was referring to a massive pair of 50-foot bronze statues of Mr. Hussein on a galloping horse, his sword pointing toward Jerusalem. The statues flanked a huge, domed, arched gateway on the main road into the palace compound, perched atop the structure's two 100-foot-tall towers. Mr. Alussy told the soldiers that he was on a team of several artisans commissioned by the Hussein government to make the statues. He said he took the job because he needed the money and was afraid of the consequences of saying no.

The officers didn't question Mr. Alussy further about his political views. Had they pressed him, they might have learned that he's harshly critical of the U.S. and bitter over an American rocket attack during the war that killed his uncle. In an interview, he says he thinks the war was fought for oil and holds the U.S. responsible for the violence and unemployment that have plagued Iraq since.

"I made the statues of Saddam -- even though I didn't want to -- because I needed money for my family and to finish my education," he says, reclining in a room decorated with several of his paintings. "And I decided to make statues for the Americans for the exact same reasons."

Mr. Alussy's initial asking price was far higher than the officers had expected. He blamed the steep price of bronze. So the Americans decided to recycle the bronze Hussein-on-horseback twins. "We figured we were going to blow them up anyway, so why not take the bronze and use it for our own statues?" recalls Sgt. Fuss. "That way we could take something that honored Saddam and use it to remember all of those we lost getting rid of him."

Without having to supply the metal, Mr. Alussy agreed to do the job for $8,000. By comparison, the former regime paid him the equivalent of several hundred dollars for his work on the Hussein statues. To finance the project, Sgt. Fuss publicized it in the task force's internal newspaper and asked officers to get soldiers to contribute $1 each. Within weeks, he raised $30,000.

(snippage)

The Army supplied Mr. Alussy with a posed photograph of First Sgt. Glen Simpson kneeling with his head on his palm. The artist was also given an army helmet and a set of boots to use as models, but Army officers refused to give him a real gun. Instead, he based the M-16 on old photos. He says some relatives mistook his creation for the real thing.

As the work neared completion, Sgt. Fuss and the division's commander, Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno, decided it needed a clearer connection to Iraq. The general suggested adding a small child to symbolize Iraq's new future, Sgt. Fuss says. When they told the artist they wanted another statue, Mr. Alussy demanded $10,000 more. "He learned capitalism real fast," Sgt. Fuss says.

With the division getting ready to return to the U.S. next month, the statues now are en route to its home base, Ft. Hood, Texas, where they will be the centerpiece of a monument that commanders hope to dedicate by Memorial Day, May 31. Current plans call for the tableau to be placed in front of a semi-circular wall emblazoned with the names of the dead. The division will be sent back to Iraq as early as next year, so some space on the wall will be left blank to allow for additional names.

The article is here, for those of you who are subscribers.