At the end of the First World War, British forces occu­pied Bagh­dad and tried to con­vince the Iraqis that their pres­ence would pro­vide pro­tec­tion from future Ottoman attack and help them attain Iraqi inde­pen­dence. 1The pro­mo­tion of a new, token Sun­ni-Arab nation­al­ism on the part of the British (replac­ing a Sun­ni-Ottoman one) was prob­lem­at­ic in a coun­try forged togeth­er by colo­nial inter­ests and inter­nal­ly divid­ed along sec­tar­i­an, eth­nic, trib­al, and lin­guis­tic lines. 2The Mid­dle East was also to be affect­ed by the vic­to­ry of Lenin and the Bol­she­viks, with its call for an anti-impe­ri­al­ist, inter­na­tion­al rev­o­lu­tion. Moved by anti-British resent­ment, both Sun­ni and Shi’i Arabs put aside their dif­fer­ences and fought for eman­ci­pa­tion from British colo­nial­ism in the Great Iraqi rev­o­lu­tion of1920. Entire vil­lages were lev­eled and thou­sands of Iraqis (and British) were killed. British forces brought in rein­force­ments from India, and, in 1921, pro­ceed­ed to enthrone the Hashemite prince Faisal ibn Hus­sein, son of the Sharif of Mec­ca and friend of T.E. Lawrence, as King of Iraq. For the next three decades, until a mil­i­tary coup in 1958, British pres­ence, while pal­pa­ble, was hid­den behind the robes of a suc­ces­sion of Iraqi mon­archs.

On the morn­ing of July 14, 1958, the Ital­ian-made bronze eques­tri­an stat­ue of King Faisal I was top­pled by the Iraqi peo­ple who believed they were excis­ing the bad mem­o­ries of the British Man­date and monar­chi­cal rule.” 3On the thir­ty-first anniver­sary of that event in 1989, Pres­i­dent Sad­dam Hus­sein had a repli­ca of the mon­u­ment to Faisal I re-erect­ed in cen­tral Bagh­dad. If Faisal I had sym­bol­ized a pup­pet king set up by the British, the very monar­chy that the Ba’ath pres­i­dent had helped bring down in his youth, why did Sad­dam Hus­sein go to the trou­ble of repli­cat­ing the mon­u­ment? Was it to prove that this past his­to­ry of colo­nial rule no longer posed a threat to Ba’ath rule? Or was the replace­ment of this mon­u­ment some­how play­ing a more sym­bol­ic role in the con­struc­tion of an Iraqi nationalist/Ba’ath ide­ol­o­gy?

Dur­ing a cri­sis of polit­i­cal legit­i­ma­tion, or when an econ­o­my threat­ens to col­lapse, there is often an attempt to con­sol­i­date iden­ti­ty, or to con­struct an imag­i­nary com­mu­ni­ty,” around icons of the past. 4Mon­u­ments become props upon which an author­i­ty, or a peo­ple, can project an ide­ol­o­gy. Ref­er­ences to the past give a sense of endur­ing con­ti­nu­ity with the present, a sense of a his­to­ry shared, inspir­ing hope for the future. Con­cepts such as nation are pro­duced through the pro­jec­tion of pos­i­tive events of the past onto cul­tur­al sym­bols as a kind of screen mem­o­ry (in this way, trau­mat­ic or his­tor­i­cal­ly oppres­sive events are repressed). Mon­u­ments aim to encap­su­late a con­struct­ed col­lec­tive mem­o­ry.

British influ­ence notwith­stand­ing, Faisal I was the first Iraqi leader to emerge from Bagh­dad since the wan­ing of the Abbasid caliphate about a thou­sand years ear­li­er. He served as a sym­bol of renewed con­ti­nu­ity with a glo­ri­ous past, how­ev­er ten­u­ous that con­ti­nu­ity might have been in real­i­ty. Res­ur­rect­ing the mon­u­ment to Faisal I was per­haps a way of reviv­ing the spir­it of king­ship that had been dor­mant in cen­tral Iraq since the inva­sion of the Mon­gols in the thir­teenth cen­tu­ry, and the occu­pa­tion by Ottomans for four cen­turies until the First World War. 5  While not a monarch him­self, it is my belief that Sad­dam Hus­sein repro­duced the mon­u­ment in order to align him­self ide­o­log­i­cal­ly with the Hashemite lega­cy. While not tech­ni­cal­ly a king, his aris­to­crat­ic lifestyle and the pro­lif­er­a­tion of mon­u­ments ded­i­cat­ed to him­self, cer­tain­ly makes one think that he was attempt­ing to posi­tion him­self as one, and even appeared to be groom­ing his sons to suc­ceed him.

Pros­per­i­ty for Iraq in the 1970s, espe­cial­ly after the Arab-Israeli war and the oil embar­go, meant the expan­sion and mod­ern­iza­tion of Bagh­dad. The Ba’ath regime’s major goal since 1968 had been to social­ize its econ­o­my. By the late 1980s, the par­ty had nation­al­ized a large part of the econ­o­my includ­ing agri­cul­ture, com­merce, indus­try, and oil. The mush­room­ing of rev­enues was dis­trib­uted across the pop­u­la­tion in the form of edu­ca­tion­al, med­ical, and labour pro­grams, the devel­op­ment of roads, elec­tric­i­ty, fresh water sup­plies, new city plan­ning, and ambi­tious archi­tec­tur­al projects. In the end, how­ev­er, this accu­mu­la­tion of wealth, in con­junc­tion with West­ern demo­niza­tion of Iran in 1979 and the Ba’ath par­ty’s empha­sis on mil­i­tary train­ing” for youth (essen­tial for defend­ing the repub­lic from the hos­tile forces of Zion­ism, impe­ri­al­ism, anti-Arab sen­ti­ment from Iran) , paved the way for the entrench­ment of mil­i­tary might and dic­ta­tor­ship in Bagh­dad. Start­ing in the ear­ly 1980s, Sad­dam Hus­sein had many mon­u­ments erect­ed in antic­i­pa­tion of Iraqi mil­i­tary vic­to­ry (these were erect­ed even before any vic­to­ry was in sight). The mod­ernistic archi­tec­tur­al feats of the 70s made way for a series of uncan­ny mon­u­ments dom­i­nat­ing the arti­fi­cial­ly defined pub­lic spaces of the 1980s.

In the heart of Bagh­dad one finds a giant cer­e­mo­ni­al ground with entrances dom­i­nat­ed by a mon­u­ment to the Iran-Iraq war (1980–1988)–the twin Vic­to­ry Arch­es. 6Orig­i­nal­ly designed by Sad­dam Hus­sein, 7self-pro­claimed artist-dic­ta­tor, each arch is made up of two giant forearms/fists, emerg­ing at a 45-degree angle from the earth, each grip­ping an enlarged repli­ca of the sword of Qadisiyya; the two swords cross to form an arch 40 meters above the ground. The bronze fore­arms of the mon­u­ment were mod­eled from the arms of the Ba’ath Pres­i­dent of Iraq, Sad­dam Hus­sein. The swords and flag of the mon­u­ment were made from the melt­ed-down weapons of Iraqi mar­tyrs” who fought in the Iran-Iraq war. Some 2,500 hel­mets, rid­dled with bul­lets, cas­cade down from the base of each fore­arm. These once belonged to Iran­ian sol­diers. The ene­my is sym­bol­ized using a brute mate­ri­al­i­ty, mark­ing defeat (the hel­mets hav­ing the aspect of skulls), while the mar­tyrs” are ele­vat­ed and sub­li­mat­ed, the swords being sym­bols of Iraqi inde­pen­dence and pow­er. The sword is sup­posed to rep­re­sent that of Sa’ad ibn-abi-Waqas, com­man­der of the Mus­lim army in the bat­tle of Qadisiyyah, and com­pan­ion of the prophet Muham­mad. In the famous bat­tle of Qad­disya of 637 AD, the Arabs over­threw the Per­sians on Mesopotami­an soil, result­ing in the Islam­i­ciza­tion of Per­sia and the res­ur­rec­tion of Mesopotami­an civ­i­liza­tion under Islam­ic rule. This bat­tle has gone down in Iraqi his­to­ry as a god-giv­en sign of Arab supe­ri­or­i­ty over the Per­sians.

On the Iraqi 10,000 dinar note, one finds the image of Sad­dam Hus­sein in the fore­ground with the Mon­u­ment to the Unknown Sol­dier (1982) in behind. The lat­ter is made up of a giant tilt­ed dira’a (a tra­di­tion­al Iraqi shield) and a repli­ca of the minaret of Samar­ra, one of the most ancient and famous in Islam­ic archi­tec­ture, and orig­i­nat­ing from ancient Mesopotami­an cul­ture. The mon­u­ment to the Unknown Sol­dier resem­bles a scene out of sci­ence fic­tion. Placed on a giant cir­cu­lar ele­vat­ed plat­form (as if echo­ing the orig­i­nal cir­cu­lar foun­da­tions of ancient Bagh­dad), the dira’a looks like a cross between a giant waf­fle iron and a fly­ing saucer, an emblem of the future, while the zig­gu­rat plants the imag­i­na­tion square­ly in the past.

Bene­dict Ander­son notes that: No more arrest­ing emblems of the mod­ern cul­ture of nation­al­ism exist than ceno­taphs and tombs of Unknown Sol­diers. The pub­lic cer­e­mo­ni­al rev­er­ence accord­ed these mon­u­ments pre­cise­ly because they are either delib­er­ate­ly emp­ty or no one knows who lies inside them, has no true prece­dents in ear­li­er times.” 8The emp­ty tomb rep­re­sents the ide­al every­man, will­ing to sac­ri­fice him­self for the glo­ry of the nation. The place­ment of Sad­dam Hus­sein in front of this mon­u­ment on the dinar note seems to be say­ing some­thing about the Unknown Soldier–he is now one with the Almighty Sad­dam. While sec­u­lar (there is no men­tion of Muham­mad), one may catch a whiff of a demi­ur­gic force at hand. All are sub­or­di­nate to the sym­bol of the cult leader. 9

The Vic­to­ry Arch­es and the Mon­u­ment to the Unknown Sol­dier reflect the pre­dom­i­nance of a pop, kitsch, and a ver­nac­u­lar aes­thet­ic found in Sad­dam Hus­sein’s archi­tec­tur­al and mon­u­men­tal projects. In 1983, Robert Ven­turi and oth­er world-renowned archi­tects were invit­ed to par­tic­i­pate in one of the largest archi­tec­tur­al com­pe­ti­tions ever spon­sored in a Third World coun­try: The [state] mosque was intend­ed to sym­bol­ize the reli­gious, state and nation­al beliefs of the peo­ple of Iraq, and the Pres­i­dent empha­sized that the final design should rep­re­sent a leap for­ward in the art of archi­tec­ture.” 10Sad­dam’s mon­u­ments are taste­less­ness, dis­play­ing a total lack of irony because of his need to use pop­u­lar cul­ture for polit­i­cal pur­pos­es, 11a tac­tic anti­thet­i­cal to that of Warhol, Old­en­burg or Ven­turi. Stat­ues of the God­dess Ishtar, Queen She­herezade, Ali Baba and the Forty thieves, as well as the medieval poet Abu Nuwas, are a few oth­er instances of Islam­ic kitsch that adorn many Bagh­dad squares.

The inter­nal­iza­tion of Ori­en­tal­ist notions of embody­ing the Arab Oth­er, nat­u­ral­ized in ancient sym­bols of Mesopotami­an­ness” or Islam­ic­ness”, are bla­tant­ly obvi­ous in these mon­u­ments. The Iraqi iden­ti­ty found its sup­port in an arche­ol­o­gy of images and ideas that paint­ed up Mid­dle East­ern his­to­ry as lit­tle more than a mem­o­ry of ancient civ­i­liza­tion, an iden­ti­ty that was, for all intents and pur­pos­es, eter­nal.” This iden­ti­ty was large­ly the con­struc­tion of a 19 th ‑cen­tu­ry imag­i­nary, when arche­ol­o­gists like Paul Emile Bot­ta and Robert Kold­ewey dis­cov­ered the remain­ing traces of the lost” civ­i­liza­tions of Assyr­ia and Baby­lon. While Mesopotami­an and Assyr­i­an arti­facts were Occi­den­tal­ized” in the 19 th cen­tu­ry, couched in a dis­course of glob­al Euro­pean” cul­ture and in the idea of Mesopotamia being the cra­dle of West­ern civ­i­liza­tion, these same arti­facts were lat­er re-Ori­en­tal­ized after the First World War when British edu­ca­tion pro­grams were imple­ment­ed as a means of uni­fy­ing, and hence pre­vent­ing social unrest with­in, Iraqi soci­ety. Assem­bling a diver­si­ty of eth­nic and reli­gious back­grounds under the ban­ner of a uni­fied Iraqi­ness” was an attempt at pro­mot­ing nation­al­ism, a makeshift sec­u­lar iden­ti­ty that replaced the idea of an Islam­ic lead­er­ship , and was cul­ti­vat­ed in the name of a uni­fied demo­c­ra­t­ic Arab nation after cen­turies of for­eign rule.

The Vic­to­ry Arch mon­u­ment and the Iraqi dinar note are both forms of pub­lic art”: from a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of pow­er you walk around to anoth­er that walks around with you.” 12As a kind of mon­u­ment, the image of the sov­er­eign on mon­ey has par­tic­u­lar sig­nif­i­cance in reveal­ing its val­ue as a legit­i­mate form of pub­lic exchange dis­trib­uted from above. In spend­ing this mon­ey mint­ed by the state, acqui­esc­ing to this sym­bol­ic form of exchange made legit­i­mate by the sov­er­eign’s por­trait, the Iraqi peo­ple are sym­bol­i­cal­ly made to look as if they were silent­ly in agree­ment to being inex­tri­ca­bly bound to pow­er. 13But in the case of mon­u­ments you walk around,” how are such rep­re­sen­ta­tions meant to acti­vate pub­lic space? Isn’t the spa­tial expe­ri­ence of the view­ing pub­lic cen­tral to the sub­ject of the mon­u­ment? In being encour­aged to spend time in these spaces is the pub­lic body itself thought to be tak­ing part in the mon­u­ment? In the case of the Vic­to­ry Arch­es, the very fact that they are placed at the entrance to a cer­e­mo­ni­al ground hints at the mon­u­men­t’s role in the con­struc­tion of col­lec­tive emo­tion­al events,” 14such events as might be depict­ed in Leni Riefen­stahl’s film Tri­umph of the Will . 15The rep­e­ti­tion of Sad­dam’s mam­moth arms emerg­ing from the ground would appear uncan­ny when encoun­tered in the mid­dle of a vast pub­lic space, and the audi­ence itself, dwarfed before the omi­nous arms or beneath the giant dira’a of the Tomb to the Unknown Sol­dier, might feel alien­at­ed, even rei­fied to the sta­tus of mass-orna­ment. 16

The Iraqi peo­ple were encour­aged to spend time at these sites through the place­ment of the­atres, amuse­ment parks, and muse­ums with­in the vicin­i­ty of the mon­u­ments. In the case of the Unknown Sol­dier Mon­u­ment, the pub­lic could vis­it a muse­um that was built beneath the dira’a struc­ture: there the sword of ibn-abi-Waqas, com­man­der of the Mus­lim army at Qadisiyya, is dis­played along­side the machine gun of Sad­dam Hus­sein. If the world is itself a stat­ue, sculpt­ed by God” 17then, like­wise, Bagh­dad and the Iraqi pub­lic at large is sculpt­ed by Sad­dam Hus­sein. Forced into a posi­tion of flat­tery or com­pla­cen­cy by such a tyran­ni­cal leader, Iraqis had no choice but to show respect for his mon­u­ments, espe­cial­ly in light of the U.N. sanc­tions that end­ed up ren­der­ing the peo­ple pow­er­less, not the regime. 18Many would mim­ic adu­la­tion when vis­it­ing his mon­u­men­tal theme parks out of a gen­uine fear of being watched by the Mukhabarat (Secu­ri­ty Ser­vices), or by Sad­dam him­self. 19At the same time, the pub­lic might itself have felt tar­get­ed by the leit­mo­tiv of so many of Sad­dam’s mon­u­ments: the swords and mil­i­tary shields loom­ing omi­nous­ly over­head speak of a vio­lence that could only be inter­pret­ed as either threat­en­ing or pro­tec­tive. In light of Sad­dam’s track-record vis-à-vis human rights, the for­mer inter­pre­ta­tion might dom­i­nate the vis­i­tor’s mind.

On August 8, 1989, on the anniver­sary of Iraqi vic­to­ry” against the Iran­ian army, Sad­dam Hus­sein opened the Vic­to­ry Arch mon­u­ment. He rode under the arch­es on a white stal­lion. In doing this, Sad­dam equat­ed him­self with two his­toric fig­ures: Husain the son of Ali (who was mar­tyred on the plains of Ker­bala in 680 AD while rid­ing a white horse; iron­i­cal­ly, he is a mar­tyr praised by Shi’i Mus­lims), and Faisal I (Sad­dam Hus­sein wears the same cer­e­mo­ni­al attire as the king wore dur­ing offi­cial state cer­e­monies). The dou­bling of the Vic­to­ry Arch seems sig­nif­i­cant con­sid­er­ing the par­al­lels Sad­dam made between these lead­ers and him­self. The arms are Sad­dam Hus­sein’s but they could just as well have been Faisal’s or Husain’s or ibn-abi-Waqas’. Anoth­er inter­pre­ta­tion of the dou­bling of the Arch relates to what Bau­drillard wrote about the twin tow­ers of the for­mer World Trade Cen­ter: the dou­bling sig­nals the dis­ap­pear­ance of com­pe­ti­tion, and hence the com­plete dom­i­nance of the regime over social and eco­nom­ic life. 20But there is also a more lit­er­al mean­ing behind the dou­bling, or even quadrupling–that of Sad­dam Hus­sein’s body, or at least of his fore­arm from which all four arms mak­ing up the mon­u­ment were mod­eled–, which could be inter­pret­ed as refer­ring to the notion of the King’s two bod­ies,” 21the dou­bling of the sov­er­eign into mor­tal and immor­tal bod­ies.

From ancient times up until the Renais­sance, it was believed that kings were earth­ly man­i­fes­ta­tions of gods. The cor­po­re­al metaphor of the body politic was fun­da­men­tal to pre-mod­ern con­cep­tions of pow­er, a polit­i­cal the­ol­o­gism. Ernst Kan­torow­icz’s revival of the notion of the King’s two bod­ies” emerges from a late-medi­ae­val juris­tic con­cept and con­sti­tu­tion­al fig­ure of speech. The sta­tus of the king is described suc­cinct­ly in a report writ­ten by Crown jurists just pri­or to the Eliz­a­bethan era:

For the King has in him two Bod­ies, viz., a Body nat­ur­al, and a Body politic. His Body nat­ur­al (if it be con­sid­ered in itself) is a Body mor­tal, sub­ject to all Infir­mi­ties that come by Nature or Acci­dent, to the Imbe­cil­i­ty of Infan­cy or old Age, and to the like Defects that hap­pen to the nat­ur­al Bod­ies of oth­er Peo­ple. But his Body politic is a Body that can­not be seen or han­dled, con­sist­ing of Pol­i­cy and Gov­ern­ment, and con­sti­tut­ed for the Direc­tion of the Peo­ple, and the Man­age­ment of the pub­lic weal, and this Body is utter­ly void of Infan­cy, and old Age, and oth­er nat­ur­al Defects and Imbe­cil­i­ties, which the Body nat­ur­al is sub­ject to, and for this Cause, what the King does in his Body politic, can­not be inval­i­dat­ed or frus­trat­ed by any Dis­abil­i­ty in his nat­ur­al Body. 22

Dur­ing the medi­ae­val peri­od, Impe­r­i­al Chris­tian­i­ty took its cues from Rome, bas­ing the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the King on two arche­types: Christ and Augus­tus, a celes­tial and an earth­ly body. Accord­ing to Gior­gio Agam­ben, Chris­t­ian polit­i­cal the­ol­o­gy had its roots in pagan prece­dent, espe­cial­ly with regards to the treat­ment of the image of the sov­er­eign’s body or its man­i­fes­ta­tion as a sculp­tur­al colos­sus with­in a fune­re­al cer­e­mo­ni­al rite fol­low­ing the sov­er­eign’s death. 23The Roman colos­sus served as dou­ble for the emper­or and was treat­ed as an image of his sur­vival. What was sup­pressed in the Roman emper­or’s sta­tus in Chris­t­ian polit­i­cal the­ol­o­gy was his deifi­ca­tion amongst pagan gods post mortem (where­as with Chris­tian­i­ty, the liv­ing king already embod­ied the divine). In many respects, impe­r­i­al Chris­tian­i­ty was a sacral­ized reflec­tion of impe­r­i­al Rome, orig­i­nat­ing from the repres­sion of local beliefs with­in ear­ly Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ties.

Before the divi­sion of Church and State, the King was believed to be an earth­ly man­i­fes­ta­tion of God, thus hav­ing an immor­tal body and a mor­tal body. One major prece­dent for this was the body of Christ, divid­ed into the indi­vid­ual and the col­lec­tive body of the Host. By the 11 th cen­tu­ry, the Chris­t­ian Imperi­um was split into the realms of the pope and of the king or emper­or. While claims to divin­i­ty by both popes and kings has­tened the path toward sec­u­lar­ism in West­ern thought, a residue of divin­i­ty remained with­in the idea of the king. The sacred aspect of the sov­er­eign was to return peri­od­i­cal­ly through­out his­to­ry under this dual form of mor­tal and immor­tal, per­son­al and col­lec­tive, pri­vate and cor­po­rate body. The sov­er­eign’s legit­i­ma­cy was upheld through a belief in the endur­ing con­ti­nu­ity of the divine body” migrat­ing after death from one monarch to the next: hence the pro­nounce­ment The King is dead, long live the King.” By the eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry the notion of the king’s two bod­ies” was prac­ti­cal­ly non-exis­tent in every­day and legal lan­guage, and in visu­al art. The rise of lib­er­al­ism, the French Rev­o­lu­tion, the decap­i­ta­tion of King Louis XVI, and the replace­ment of organ­ic rep­re­sen­ta­tions of society/state with mech­a­nis­tic ones, sig­naled the dom­i­nance of a mod­ern, bour­geois demo­c­ra­t­ic soci­ety.

In more recent times, the idea and aes­thet­ic of the king’s two bod­ies resur­faced with­in total­i­tar­i­an state struc­tures. The revival of pre-mod­ern, sym­bol­ic forms was instru­men­tal to the con­struc­tion of purist notions of nation­al iden­ti­ty: If nation-states are wide­ly con­ced­ed to be new” and his­tor­i­cal,” the nations to which they give polit­i­cal expres­sion always loom out of an immemo­r­i­al past, and, still more impor­tant, glide into a lim­it­less future.” 24Bene­dict Ander­son notes that nation­al­ism has more in com­mon with kin­ship’ and reli­gion’, than with lib­er­al­ism’ or fas­cism’.” 25Because Enlight­en­ment and Rev­o­lu­tion destroyed the legit­i­ma­cy of the divine­ly-ordained, hier­ar­chi­cal dynas­tic realm,” 26the sov­er­eign nation-state came to replace monar­chi­cal orga­ni­za­tion as nec­es­sary for ter­ri­to­r­i­al and onto­log­i­cal secu­ri­ty and free­dom. Or as Hardt and Negri define it: The mod­ern con­cept of nation thus inher­it­ed the pat­ri­mo­ni­al body of the monar­chic state and rein­vent­ed it in a new form: a cul­tur­al, inte­grat­ing iden­ti­ty, found­ed on a bio­log­i­cal con­ti­nu­ity of blood rela­tions, a spa­tial con­ti­nu­ity of ter­ri­to­ry.” 27At the end of the medieval peri­od, human­ist val­ues began to invade abso­lutist ones, and tran­scen­den­tal sov­er­eign­ty was only to return peri­od­i­cal­ly under a dif­fer­ent aspect, adapt­ing to new eth­i­cal and pro­duc­tive forms in the wake of rev­o­lu­tion­ary change: The pow­er of the pro­le­tari­at impos­es lim­its on cap­i­tal and not only deter­mines the cri­sis but dic­tates the terms and nature of trans­for­ma­tion. The pro­le­tari­at actu­al­ly invents the social and pro­duc­tive forms that cap­i­tal will be forced to adopt in the future.” 28The mass­es formed one col­lec­tive body that chal­lenged the per­pet­u­al threat of the auto­crat­ic body’s return. The even­tu­al reap­pear­ance of the sov­er­eign’s two bod­ies, which had inter­nal­ized and then pro­ject­ed exter­nal­ly the demands of pro­le­tar­i­an desire, was the trump card nec­es­sary for a return to tran­scen­den­tal” val­ues, a way of keep­ing the imma­nent pow­er of the peo­ple at bay. 29

While Kan­torow­icz traces the notion of the King’s two bod­ies to the Medieval West­ern tra­di­tion (and Agam­ben to a Roman one), the dou­bling of the king’s body, or of his func­tion at least, can also be traced back to the Mid­dle East. Accord­ing to Aziz al-Azmeh, “[a] caliph rep­re­sents God in the imple­men­ta­tion of His will … and is also the caliph of Adam, con­tin­u­ing his pri­mal and arche­typ­al estab­lish­ment of order which is also the foun­da­tion of a human order ful­fill­ing the divine pur­pose of cre­ation.” 30Both a divine and a mun­dane geneal­o­gy coex­ist with­in the per­son of the caliph. Al-Azmeh also out­lines the con­cep­tu­al and sym­bol­ic com­mon­al­i­ty between Near East­ern cul­tures (e.g. Arab, Per­sian, Byzan­tine) and Hel­lenis­tic Roman­i­ty. In ancient his­tor­i­cal texts and arti­facts one detects a Grae­co-Roman clas­si­ciza­tion in the Mid­dle East in the cen­turies imme­di­ate­ly pre­ced­ing the Mus­lim con­quests, and of the Ori­en­tal­ism of lat­er Greek and Roman king­ship.” 31; and fur­ther­more, mytho­log­i­cal-rit­u­al and dis­cur­sive enun­ci­a­tions of Grae­co-Mid­dle East­ern king­ship were to be woven togeth­er, under con­di­tions of impe­r­i­al cen­tral­iza­tion, in the cult of Roman emper­ors and its further…elaboration in the Byzan­tine notion of the Basileus con­sti­tu­tion of Mus­lim king­ship.” 32The wars between Achaemenid Per­sians and Greeks, as with those between Sas­san­ian Per­sians and Byzan­tines cen­turies lat­er, laid the ground­work for what approx­i­mates an ecu­meni­cal polit­i­cal the­ol­o­gy in the form of the King’s two bod­ies. This com­mu­ni­ca­tion between ter­ri­to­ries reflects a pre-mod­ern dynam­ic between peo­ples, one that pre­dates con­cep­tions of fixed nation­al­i­ty and race:

For in fun­da­men­tal ways seri­ous” monar­chy lies trans­verse to all mod­ern con­cep­tions of polit­i­cal life. King­ship orga­nizes every­thing around a high cen­tre. Its legit­i­ma­cy derives from divin­i­ty, not from pop­u­la­tions, who, after all, are sub­jects, not cit­i­zens. In the mod­ern con­cep­tion, state sov­er­eign­ty is ful­ly, flat­ly, and even­ly oper­a­tive over each square cen­time­ter of a legal­ly demar­cat­ed ter­ri­to­ry. But in the old­er imag­in­ing, where states were defined by cen­tres, bor­ders were porous and indis­tinct, and sov­er­eign­ties fad­ed imper­cep­ti­bly into one anoth­er. 33

Between the eleventh and thir­teenth cen­turies when the pow­er strug­gle between the Chris­t­ian papa­cy and king­ship was at its height, the Islam­ic caliphate was also show­ing signs of wear and tear. The dis­tinc­tion between the spir­i­tu­al and the tem­po­ral” func­tions became prob­lem­at­ic. In Bagh­dad the caliphate had been sub­ject to more and more crit­i­cism by the ula­ma in Mec­ca, who advised the caliph on temporal/ prac­ti­cal polit­i­cal mat­ters. Also dur­ing this time, the absolute author­i­ty of the caliph of Bagh­dad was being weak­ened by com­pet­ing caliphates formed in Cor­do­ba and Cairo. This split­ting up of pow­er with­in the Islam­ic empire, although dif­fer­ent in nature from that of Chris­tian­i­ty, was as dev­as­tat­ing to the hege­mo­ny of religious/political sov­er­eign­ty as was the split­ting up of author­i­ty between Church and State in the West occur­ring around the same time. The caliphate in Bagh­dad in the 12 th and 13 th cen­turies start­ed tak­ing on a com­pa­ra­ble sta­tus to that of the pope, exist­ing with­out any real polit­i­cal or mil­i­tary pow­er. The decline of the caliphate was soon fol­lowed by the dev­as­ta­tion caused by Buyid, Seljuk, and Mon­gol inva­sions, and then four cen­turies of Ottoman rule.

The Abbasid civ­i­liza­tion cen­tred in Bagh­dad between the eighth and tenth cen­turies was con­sid­ered the gold­en age of Islam­ic Empire, an Enlight­en­ment peri­od for the Near East. The Mu’­tazi­la was a promi­nent sect of thinkers who devel­oped the dis­ci­pline of kalam (philosophical/rational the­ol­o­gy) dur­ing the Abbasid caliphate. Influ­enced by Greek philo­soph­i­cal and sci­en­tif­ic thought, the Mu’­tazi­la brought rea­son, log­ic, and the study of nature to reli­gion; they even pro­fessed that human will came before divine pre­des­ti­na­tion. 34The spir­it of enquiry brought to Islam under the Abbassid caliphate, and its embrac­ing of oth­er tra­di­tions (Greek, Per­sian, Juda­ic, Byzan­tine), might have con­tributed to the decline of Abbasid Arab empire cen­tred in Bagh­dad in that this the­o­log­i­cal ratio­nal­ist move­ment (the offi­cial state ide­ol­o­gy) was strong­ly opposed by the ortho­dox Islam of the Umayyads. The Abbassid caliphate was chal­lenged by Sun­nism, which placed the author­i­ty of the ula­ma (Mus­lim schol­ars and jurists) above that of the king in terms of inher­it­ing the man­tle of prophe­cy.” 35This con­flict result­ed in the Abbasid caliphate’s decline, and soon Chris­t­ian and Ottoman colo­nial expan­sion came to sup­plant Arab-Islam on the world scene. It is impor­tant to be remind­ed that this high point in Islam­ic his­to­ry occurred in ninth and tenth cen­tu­ry Bagh­dad because this era of Abbasid civ­i­liza­tion played a sig­nif­i­cant role in the con­struc­tion of Sad­dam Hus­sein’s persona–as sov­er­eign car­ry­ing on the inter­rupt­ed work of the medi­ae­val caliphs of Bagh­dad. In focus­ing on Mesopotami­an and medieval Islam­ic cul­ture, the Ba’ath regime aimed to pro­vide Sad­dam Husayn…with his­tor­i­cal legit­i­ma­cy by por­tray­ing him as the cul­mi­na­tion to a con­tin­u­ous suc­ces­sion of great Iraqi rulers from remote antiq­ui­ty to the present.” 36

Once Iraq gained inde­pen­dence, it sought a col­lec­tive iden­ti­ty that was, on the one hand, some­how con­tin­u­ous with a past his­tor­i­cal sub­ject, and, on the oth­er, in oppo­si­tion to the Euro­pean and Amer­i­can capitalist/imperialist sys­tems. Look­ing toward the dis­tant past was one way of bol­ster­ing a weak­ened iden­ti­ty. Look­ing at non-West­ern” mod­els of pro­duc­tion and social orga­ni­za­tion (non-cap­i­tal­ist/­col­lec­tivist) was anoth­er. Cold war pol­i­tics effec­tive­ly put Third and Sec­ond World nations in a posi­tion where they had to choose between two sym­bol­ic forms of pow­er, each wield­ing what were essen­tial­ly cap­i­tal­ist forms of pro­duc­tion under the guise of dif­fer­ent ide­o­log­i­cal state struc­tures. Because inde­pen­dent Iraq turned to state social­ism, mod­eled in large part on that of the Sovi­et Union, and inspired by anti-colo­nial­ist inter­na­tion­al meet­ings like the 1955 Ban­dung Con­fer­ence, it would be use­ful at this point to ana­lyze how the con­cept of the king’s two bod­ies” man­i­fest­ed itself under Stal­in’s regime.

The for­mal­ism of the utopi­an avant-garde, and its align­ment of art with pol­i­tics, was replaced by a return to con­tent and fig­u­ra­tion (Social­ist Real­ism) in the guise of the new man,” who had inter­nal­ized tech­nol­o­gy and sym­bol­ized a new kind of col­lec­tivist pow­er. The new man was the mea­sure­ment of all things, replac­ing God. Be that as it may, Social­ist Real­ism could not have mate­ri­al­ized with­out the influ­ence of the avant-garde:

The moment the avant-garde artist’s posi­tion is occu­pied by the par­ty lead­er­ship and the real fig­ure of the new indi­vid­ual, the rebuilder of the Earth’, the avant-garde myth becomes a sub­ject for art, and the fig­ure of the avant-garde demi­urge breaks down into the Divine Cre­ator and his demo­ni­a­cal double–Stalin and Trot­skii, the pos­i­tive hero’ and the wreck­er.’ ” 37

The sta­tus of the divine cre­ator did not die, but was sim­ply trans­ferred onto the per­son of the avant-garde artist, and lat­er, with Social­ist Real­ism, onto the artist-dic­ta­tor.

Incor­po­rat­ing ele­ments of a Byzan­tine and folk­loric past with­in the con­text of the Sovi­et State’s posthis­tor­i­cal exis­tence,” Stal­in pro­ject­ed him­self as the epit­o­me of the new super­man or demi­urge. The image of the new man in art, and a return to real­ism, start­ed in earnest with the death of Lenin in 1924. The loss of Lenin was felt like the loss of a god. The image of Lenin had to be pre­served for pos­ter­i­ty in order to keep the demi­urge alive. In dis­play­ing Lenin as a cult fig­ure, Stal­in was set­ting him­self up as the heir to Lenin (hence, the con­ti­nu­ity of pow­er with­in the body of Stal­in). The fact that Lenin was embalmed so as to appear immor­tal, inca­pable of decom­po­si­tion, is com­pat­i­ble with this myth of the immor­tal body of the King. The image of Lenin’s dead body assured that his spir­it had been passed on to a new heir–Stalin. In hav­ing him­self paint­ed next to Lenin, Stal­in became a cult leader with two bod­ies. He bor­rowed the image of the reli­gious leader from peas­ant icons as well as the super­man from Futur­ism, com­bin­ing the ide­ol­o­gy of reli­gion and folk­lore with that of tech­no­log­i­cal progress and for­mal­ist aes­thet­ics.

Accord­ing to Stal­in­ist aes­thet­ics, Social­ist Real­ist con­tent was not ret­ro­grade com­pared to avant-garde for­mal­ism because all was new in a posthis­tor­i­cal world: nov­el­ty is auto­mat­i­cal­ly guar­an­teed by the total nov­el­ty of super­his­tor­i­cal con­tent and sig­nif­i­cance.” 38Iron­i­cal­ly, it was with the fall of Com­mu­nism at the end of the 1980s that one once again heard talk of a posthis­tor­i­cal moment. As we now know, the Com­mu­nist threat” to the West­ern world was replaced by a new men­ace. Unable to bring his peo­ple out of the eco­nom­ic and sym­bol­ic slump after an eight-year war with Iran, Sad­dam react­ed to nation­al cri­sis by invad­ing Kuwait, shat­ter­ing the dream of a post-Cold War / New World Order. The Mid­dle East returned as this anar­chic, mono­lith­ic force that threat­ened the West.

Stal­in was one of the few peo­ple Sad­dam Hus­sein looked up to. He saw his role as coter­mi­nous with that of the for­mer Sovi­et leader. Like Sad­dam, Stal­in sur­vived famine and war, accu­sa­tions that he was killing his own peo­ple to remain in pow­er, and came from a poor, work­ing class back­ground. Sad­dam also appoint­ed him­self offi­cial artist-dic­ta­tor in a way sim­i­lar to Stal­in and Hitler. Accord­ing to fel­low par­tic­i­pants of the 1968 coup against then pres­i­dent Abd al-Rah­man Arif’s regime, Sad­dam Hus­sein was remem­bered to have repeat­ed the same refrain at par­ty meet­ings: When we take over the gov­ern­ment I’ll turn this coun­try into a Stal­in­ist state.” The most notable aspect of Sad­dam’s uses of Stal­in­ism how­ev­er was in his Social­ist Real­ist aes­thet­ics: paint­ings, mosaics, and posters depict­ed Sad­dam Hus­sein as a benev­o­lent, smil­ing leader, shar­ing the fruits of the land with the Iraqi peo­ple. 39

This ven­er­a­tion of Stal­in had its roots in Iraqi pol­i­tics dur­ing the time of Abd al-Karim Qasim, who ruled Iraq after the Iraqi rev­o­lu­tion of 1958. The cul­tur­al influ­ence of Rus­sia stems from Qasim’s turn to the Com­mu­nists for pro­tec­tion, since the Com­mu­nists were Iraq’s only deeply root­ed polit­i­cal par­ty. Qasim was the hero of the Iraqi rev­o­lu­tion and embod­ied the quin­tes­sen­tial Iraqi: his father was Sun­ni, his moth­er Kur­dish, and he was the grand­son of a Shi’i. He rep­re­sent­ed the low­er-mid­dle-class Iraqis with­out fam­i­ly name or for­tune who, dur­ing the 1930s, found social mobil­i­ty in the new nation­al army.” 40

As in many post­colo­nial nations, Iraq and oth­er Arab nations turned to social­ism because of the sim­i­lar expe­ri­ence of exploita­tion that Marx detect­ed in both pro­le­tari­at and col­o­nized. The new inde­pen­dent nation under Qasim purged itself of all traces of British influ­ence, mil­i­tary, gov­ern­men­tal, legal, and cul­tur­al. A Social­ist Real­ist aes­thet­ics worked to con­struct the type of cul­tur­al nation­al iden­ti­ty that per­sist­ed up until Sad­dam’s fall:

Trad­ing on the social and eco­nom­ic inequal­i­ties in Iraqi soci­ety, the Iraqi Com­mu­nist Par­ty (ICP) had estab­lished by the late 1950s a mas­sive pres­ence on the streets of most Iraqi cities. Pic­tures of Marx, Lenin, Niki­ta Khrushchev, and Mao Tse-tung com­pet­ed for space on the walls and fences of every city and town with those of Nass­er… In one cafe after anoth­er, intel­lec­tu­als wear­ing bushy mous­tach­es that imi­tat­ed Stal­in met to dis­cuss the actu­al­iza­tion of utopia, the embod­i­ment of lib­er­ty, democ­ra­cy, progress, and the elim­i­na­tion of all forms of dis­crim­i­na­tion.’ 41

The adop­tion of a Sovi­et-style sys­tem, the dic­ta­tor­ship of one par­ty in the name of the exploit­ed mass­es, only real­ly became cen­tral to Iraqi soci­ety with the con­struc­tion of Ba’ath offi­cial doc­trine in 1963. From this point on, lib­er­al democ­ra­cy was iden­ti­fied with West­ern impe­ri­al­ism and cap­i­tal­ist exploita­tion. Once Sad­dam Hus­sein took over lead­er­ship from Bakr in 1968, he took his cues from Stal­in, after the exam­ple of Qasim.

Ger­mane to mod­ern Iraqi art, archi­tec­ture, and mon­u­ments, is a return to fig­u­ra­tion, a fig­u­ra­tion that was banned from most Islam­ic art. The first signs of an ancient pre-Islam­ic aes­thet­ic came out of Bagh­dad’s mod­ern art move­ment” under the Iraqi monar­chy (1921–1958). 42Ini­tial­ly there was an inter­est in an Iraq-cen­tred pan-Ara­bism and an edu­ca­tion­al pro­gramme found­ed in 1922 drew heav­i­ly on the writ­ings of Sati’ al-Hus­ri who preached an egal­i­tar­i­an pan-Ara­bism and a hos­til­i­ty toward Per­sian influ­ence on Arab cul­ture. In 1941, fol­low­ing the fail­ure of the Rashid Ali al-Kay­lani pro-Nazi revolt, the British took con­trol over Iraq’s edu­ca­tion and, at the expense of aggres­sive pan-Ara­bism, much more empha­sis was put in the cur­ricu­lum on ancient Mesopotami­an his­to­ry.” 43Sad­dam Hus­sein and his gen­er­a­tion were the first to receive a nation­al­ist edu­ca­tion where images of Ham­mura­bi and Neb­uchad­nez­zar were pre­sent­ed as ancient, nation­al heroes. This became the foun­da­tion of the notion of an eter­nal mono­lith­ic iden­ti­ty locat­ed in the dis­tant past but con­sid­ered coter­mi­nous with con­tem­po­rary Iraqi iden­ti­ty. An Ori­en­tal­ist view of Iraq erased all traces of a shame­ful colo­nial recent his­to­ry, serv­ing to quell Arab resent­ment toward Ottoman and Euro­pean influ­ence, as well as Shi’i Arab and Kurd resent­ment vis-à-vis Sun­ni dom­i­nance. With the erad­i­ca­tion of colo­nial pres­ence after 1958, artists, many of them Marx­ist, attempt­ed to revive Mesopotami­an cul­ture and his­to­ry. The quest for Iraqi roots with­in ancient Mesopotamia became con­nect­ed to the need for sym­bols of sec­u­lar Iraqi patri­o­tism that would replace those of a pre­dom­i­nant­ly Islam­ic cast. The sec­u­lar turn was nec­es­sary to the vision of an egal­i­tar­i­an pan-Ara­bism, espe­cial­ly in a nation where Shi’is out­num­bered Sun­nis.

The Iraq-cen­tred cul­tur­al doxa was prob­lem­at­ic in light of its Ori­en­tal­ist ori­gins in Euro­pean colo­nial­ism: Ori­en­tal­ists were inter­preters of East to West, but increas­ing­ly they also become inter­preters of the East to itself, as Mid­dle East­ern­ers study­ing in Europe absorbed Euro­pean method­ol­o­gy and the philoso­phies in which it was embed­ded. The Ori­en­t’s con­tem­po­rary ten­den­cy to glo­ri­fy its past and to den­i­grate its cur­rent con­di­tion reflects, in part, the work of the Ori­en­tal­ists.” 44An essen­tial Iraqi­ness was for­mu­lat­ed so as to appease internecine con­flicts root­ed in reli­gious sec­tar­i­an­ism (Shi’i ver­sus Sun­ni Mus­lims) and in dif­fer­ences in lan­guage and cul­ture (pri­mar­i­ly the Kurds). Iraq’s Ba’ath par­ty also end­ed up shun­ning a pan-Arab nation­al­ism because of their desire to monop­o­lize the oil reserves with­in their own ter­ri­to­ry. To sat­is­fy more fun­da­men­tal­ist Islamist views from neigh­bour­ing coun­tries, as well as the large­ly Arab Sun­ni and Shi’i pop­u­la­tion, Sad­dam com­bined ancient pre-Islam­ic civ­i­liza­tions with medi­ae­val Islam­ic his­to­ry:

Unlike the com­mu­nists, the Ba’ath avoid­ed a rift with the more tra­di­tion­al mass­es by pay­ing lip-ser­vice to reli­gion, while striv­ing to defuse Islam as a polit­i­cal and social force. The prin­ci­ple of sep­a­ra­tion between mosque and state could ease the inte­gra­tion of sec­u­lar­ly-mind­ed Shi’i (and Chris­t­ian) Arabs into the polit­i­cal sys­tem. 45

A sec­u­lar nation­al­ism could go only so far. After the inva­sion of Kuwait in 1991, Sad­dam Hus­sein sup­ple­ment­ed the dis­course of nation­al­ism with that of reli­gion by becom­ing pub­licly devout so as to avoid antag­o­nism from neigh­bour­ing Arab coun­tries. I have become a Mus­lim” he exclaimed, and then launched Scud mis­siles at Israel. This action was fol­lowed by pro-Iraq demon­stra­tions right across the Mid­dle East. His reli­gious ruse worked. Through­out the 1980s, the Unit­ed States seemed to turn a blind eye to the out­right demo­niza­tion of Israel by Iraq because Iraq was at war with the Shi’is Iran. Fur­ther­more, the turn to an Iraqi-cen­tred rather than pan-Ara­bic iden­ti­ty, was also large­ly due to the con­flict with Iran, and the need to secure Iraqi inter­ests in the Per­sian Gulf. Since the bat­tle of Qadisiyya in 637 AD, iden­ti­ty in Iraq had always been in oppo­si­tion to Persia/Iran; the prob­lem remained that many Shi’i Arabs had ances­tral, reli­gious, and cul­tur­al ties with Iran.

The exca­va­tion of ancient Mesopotami­an and Assyr­i­an sites, the recon­struc­tion of old sites that had dis­ap­peared, and the repa­tri­a­tion of arche­o­log­i­cal arti­facts seized by the West was one of the most expen­sive cultural/political Ba’ath cam­paigns. Anoth­er sym­bol­ic move in the con­struc­tion of an imag­i­nary com­mu­ni­ty was the renam­ing of cities and sites in mod­ern Iraq to Mesopo­to­mi­an and Medi­ae­val-Islam­ic ones: e.g., Baby­lon, Nin­eveh, al-Quds. The ancient site of Baby­lon was recon­struct­ed with lit­tle regard for authen­tic­i­ty and any real per­ma­nence, a Dis­ney­fied fac­sim­i­le of its for­mer self. 46All of these pro­pa­gan­dis­tic projects were made pos­si­ble by the lucra­tive oil trade.

The pro­mo­tion of what essen­tial­ly came down to an Ori­en­tal­ist iden­ti­ty by the Ba’ath regime was in keep­ing with the Euro­pean mod­ernist project of vora­cious­ly con­sum­ing all par­tic­u­lar­i­ties between peo­ples and per­pet­u­at­ing myths of nat­u­ral­ized truths about dif­fer­ence.” In the post­war peri­od, new inde­pen­dent coun­tries took on forms of State inspired by non-West­ern exam­ples: e.g., Social­ism. But as Chat­ter­jee points out:

If nation­alisms in the rest of the world have to choose their imag­ined com­mu­ni­ty from cer­tain mod­u­lar forms already made avail­able to them by Europe and the Amer­i­c­as, what do they have left to imag­ine? His­to­ry, it would seem has decreed that we in the post­colo­nial world shall only be per­pet­u­al con­sumers of moder­ni­ty. Europe and the Amer­i­c­as, the only true sub­jects of his­to­ry, have thought out on our behalf not only the script of colo­nial enlight­en­ment and exploita­tion, but also that of our anti­colo­nial resis­tance and post­colo­nial mis­ery. Even our imag­i­na­tions must remain for­ev­er col­o­nized. 47

Mid­dle East­ern coun­tries have acquired an image of them­selves via the West­ern media that per­pet­u­ates mono­lith­ic stereo­types of Islam­icand ancient Near East­ern iden­ti­ty, and only lim­it­ed options for civ­i­liz­ing” change: We can­not under­es­ti­mate the role of West­ern medi­at­ic rep­re­sen­ta­tion in this archaiza­tion: exot­ic, mar­gin­al reli­gious man­i­fes­ta­tions are pre­sent­ed as cen­tral, civ­il wars or insur­rec­tions …and are pre­sent­ed per­sis­tent­ly as sectarian–and these rep­re­sen­ta­tions are trans­mit­ted back to their coun­tries of ori­gin, at once dis­tort­ing real­i­ties, and active­ly incit­ing sec­tar­i­an con­flicts…“48Thanks to Amer­i­can pro­pa­gan­da, the many Islams occur­ring all over the world are all lumped in with Islam­ic fun­da­men­tal­ism, espe­cial­ly of the Wah­habist vari­ety, after 9 / 11. Some­times the desire to dis­tance one­self from the col­o­niz­er, the impe­ri­al­ist pow­er, can result in tak­ing on the forms of gov­ern­ment of the oppo­si­tion or ene­my.” Sad­dam Hus­sein him­self took on ele­ments of Stal­in­ist social­ism, but he mould­ed it to the cir­cum­stances of Iraqi his­to­ry, and per­son­al cir­cum­stance. How­ev­er, since the first Per­sian Gulf War, he has turned to Islam and a more mod­ern kitsch mil­i­tarism.

The most recent mon­u­ment that Sad­dam Hus­sein had com­mis­sioned was a mosque, named The Moth­er of All Bat­tles,” a mon­u­ment to the Per­sian Gulf War of 1991, when sup­pos­ed­ly the Ba’ath regime emerged vic­to­ri­ous over the Unit­ed States and its allies. Like the Vic­to­ry Arch mon­u­ment, the mosque sym­bol­ized a denial of mil­i­tary defeat and of the mas­sive destruc­tion to Iraqi infra­struc­ture. This white lime­stone and blue mosa­ic Islam­ic-kitsch mosque has four minarets that look like the bar­rels of Kalash­nikov rifles and four oth­ers that look like Scud mis­siles. To prove his Islam­ic faith, he has dis­played with­in the mosque a copy of the Quran writ­ten in his own blood. This con­sub­stan­ti­a­tion of the blood of the cult leader with the words of the Quran spells out the sacred­ness of his own blood. The ges­ture con­notes sac­ri­fice in the name of Islam­ic belief, the very thing that he encour­aged in his armies. The last mon­u­ment that Sad­dam had planned to exe­cute was the Tow­er of Babel.

Sad­dam Hus­sein’s turn to reli­gion was sig­nif­i­cant for rea­sons oth­er than the con­tin­gen­cies of polit­i­cal align­ment with oth­er Islam­ic nations, for it unmasks the ide­o­log­i­cal sim­i­lar­i­ties under­ly­ing nation­al­ism and polit­i­cal-the­o­log­i­cal abso­lutism. When Kan­torow­icz, an exiled Jew in Amer­i­ca, wrote The King’s Two Bod­ies in 1957, he was respond­ing not only to mem­o­ries of the Third Reich but also to the actu­al­i­ties of the Cold War. 49The con­struc­tion of the nation around the spir­i­tu­al author­i­ty of the leader and the mys­ti­fi­ca­tion of the nation around notions of ide­o­log­i­cal puri­ty were com­mon occur­rences through­out moder­ni­ty. As in the case of Sad­dam Hus­sein and Iraq, what appeared on the sur­face as sec­u­lar pol­i­tics hid deep reli­gious roots, reli­gious roots that had act­ed all along as a foil for the excep­tion­al­i­ty of the law, and of the king (and of the law’s foun­da­tion in vio­lence 50).

Any­one who watched the news cov­er­age of the recent war on Iraq heard about the sus­pi­cion that there was more than just one Sad­dam Hus­sein. Some thought he had a dou­ble, and oth­ers cal­cu­lat­ed that there were up to four Sad­dams roam­ing around Bagh­dad. A Ger­man foren­sic sci­en­tist, Dieter Buh­mann, used the lat­est dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy to ana­lyze thou­sands of hours of video footage of Sad­dam Hus­sein and dis­cerned at least three men dou­bling as the Iraqi pres­i­dent. This mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of the body in the form of vic­tims suf­fer­ing through plas­tic surgery and receiv­ing the bul­lets meant for Sad­dam Hus­sein, was echoed in the many images of Sad­dam that haunt­ed every Iraqi pub­lic space, in the form of murals, on bill­boards, even star­ring in music videos on TV. And yet Sad­dam Hus­sein was nowhere to be found. He hid in his many palaces, nev­er stay­ing in one spot longer than four hours at a time. The king with many bod­ies had made Iraq into a hall of mir­rors.

Through­out the war on Iraqi cer­tain mil­i­tary ter­mi­nolo­gies dom­i­nat­ed, amongst them the notion of an end­less oper­a­tion,” of enter­ing the body and cut­ting it up. The idea of pre­ci­sion bomb­ing had the char­ac­ter of zap­ping a local­ized can­cer. It was an oper­a­tion to rid the nation of Iraq of the symp­tom of Sad­dam Hus­sein. Like a virus, he mul­ti­plied and divid­ed. Bio-med­ical metaphors were in abun­dance. The decap­i­ta­tion” of Bagh­dad could be under­stood as a ref­er­ence to the wave of ratio­nal” vio­lence that dis­man­tled the monar­chy in France in the 18 th cen­tu­ry. This neo-colo­nial war, more that any oth­er war, played itself out live” on the screen, in real time, the West­ern gaze glued to the Iraqi oper­at­ing table. What the screen pro­ject­ed had been man­u­fac­tured for a glob­al audi­ence long before the war even got off the ground. Embed­ded jour­nal­ists reg­u­lat­ed the pub­lic image of the mil­i­tary. What appeared live” hid so much civil­ian death.

On April 9, 2003, the giant colos­sus of Sad­dam Hus­sein in Fir­dos Square was sym­bol­i­cal­ly top­pled and his head dragged through the streets of Bagh­dad. The event was stage-man­aged by the U.S. media to make it appear that Iraqis wel­comed the inva­sion and occu­pa­tion of their coun­try.” Of the 200 peo­ple assem­bled in the square only a few dozen were Iraqi: ” The sig­nif­i­cance of this should be clear: those who spon­ta­neous­ly” gath­ered in Fir­dos Square includ­ed Iraqi polit­i­cal agents of the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary, dis­patched from Nasiriya to Bagh­dad to serve as an appro­pri­ate back­drop for the visu­als desired by Bush admin­is­tra­tion spin doc­tors.” 51Why is Iraq now suf­fer­ing from a com­plete lack of social infra­struc­ture in the wake of the U.S. war to lib­er­ate” Iraq? Iraqis now appear weak­er than ever. The media too often por­trays this as an essen­tial flaw in Iraqi char­ac­ter (they loot­ed their own coun­try, they are bel­liger­ent, etc.). At the time of writ­ing this, Sad­dam was sus­pect­ed alive and his two sons Uday and Qusay had just been killed by U.S. troops Vir­tu­al­ly all of the paint­ings, mosaics, and bronzes depict­ing Sad­dam Hus­sein had been destroyed, thus shat­ter­ing the mon­strous illu­sion of their Pres­i­den­t’s two bod­ies.” Reports of the loot­ing of 18, 000 Mesopotami­an, Assyr­i­an, Per­sian, and medi­ae­val Islam­ic arti­facts from the Nation­al Muse­um are now said to have been a gross exag­ger­a­tion. Bagh­dad now appears to be in pos­ses­sion of most of the rem­nants of its eter­nal past.”

Although an aes­thet­ic of cul­tur­al regres­sion under the Ba’ath regime served to uphold the law, this does not mean that the Vic­to­ry Arch or the Unknown Sol­dier mon­u­ments should be oblit­er­at­ed. It is under­stand­able that the Iraqi peo­ple would want to put this chap­ter of Iraqi his­to­ry behind them, but while the destruc­tion of mon­u­ments can be cathar­tic, it also has­tens for­get­ting. Because so much of Iraqi nation­al mem­o­ry was con­struct­ed by Ba’athist ide­ol­o­gy in the form of pub­lic mon­u­ments, one won­ders to what use this mem­o­ry can now serve. To the mem­o­ry of Sad­dam’s atroc­i­ties to be sure. W.J.T. Mitchell states that the pulling down of pub­lic art is as impor­tant to its func­tion as its putting up.” 52The top­pling of Sad­dam’s many mon­u­ments could give back to the Iraqi pub­lic some sense of dig­ni­ty. Alter­ing these mon­u­ments so as to sub­vert their orig­i­nal inten­tion is anoth­er option. How does a dis­joint­ed nation begin to rede­fine its iden­ti­ty after the fall of a dic­ta­tor­ship, espe­cial­ly when it finds itself in the grips of an impe­ri­al­ist pow­er? The chances of Bagh­dad and its remain­ing Ba’ath mon­u­ments becom­ing a phan­tas­magoric gar­den of post-total­i­tar­i­an” art” 53are slight to say the least.

1Like the Amer­i­cans today oil was the real rea­son for British pres­ence in Iraq, not free­dom from tyran­ny.

2Bound­aries for the new Iraq were com­plete­ly arti­fi­cial and igno­rant of trib­al dynam­ics.

3Samir al-Khalil, The Mon­u­ment: Art, Vul­gar­i­ty and Respon­si­bil­i­ty in Iraq , Berke­ley: Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia Press, 1991, p. 130.

4Bene­dict Ander­son, Imag­ined Com­mu­ni­ties , London/NY: Ver­so, 1983/1991.

5″…Faisal had won a sin­gu­lar vic­to­ry by mak­ing Iraq the first Arab state in the Mid­dle East to exer­cise even token sov­er­eign­ty… [How­ev­er,] token inde­pen­dence did noth­ing to close the chasm of sec­tar­i­an­ism, trib­al­ism, con­flict­ing eco­nom­ic inter­ests, and dif­fer­ing def­i­n­i­tions of iden­ti­ty that divid­ed the urban Sun­nis and the rur­al Shia” (Mack­ey, p. 119).

6Al-Khalil (descrip­tion of the mon­u­ment in this essay was inspired by this book).

7Final ver­sion of the mon­u­ment worked out by Khalid al-Rahat, the same artist to design the Unknown Sol­dier Mon­u­ment.

8  Bene­dict Ander­son, Imag­ined Com­mu­ni­ties , London/NY: Ver­so, 1983/1991, p. 9.

9″…the sin­gle wills of indi­vid­u­als con­verge and are rep­re­sent­ed in the will of the tran­scen­den­tal sov­er­eign. Sov­er­eign­ty is thus defined both by tran­scen­dence and by rep­re­sen­ta­tion…”   ( Michael Hardt/Antonio Negri, Empire , Cam­bridge: Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2000, p. 84 ).

10Al-Khalil, p. 66. In the end how­ev­er, Sad­dam Hus­sein was not hap­py with any of the pro­pos­als and attempt­ed to bring the archi­tects togeth­er so that Sad­dam might help them redesign their pro­pos­als. Ven­turi left Bagh­dad furi­ous.

11The encour­age­ment of kitsch is mere­ly anoth­er of the inex­pen­sive ways in which total­i­tar­i­an regimes seek to ingra­ti­ate them­selves with their sub­jects.” (Clement Green­berg, Avant-Garde and Kitsch” in Art and Cul­ture , Boston: Bea­con Press, 1961, p. 19.)

12Mark Lewis,   The Tech­nolo­gies of Pub­lic Art”, Van­guard , Novem­ber 1987, p. 15.

13″[Medals/money] alone car­ry on their faces and alone are capa­ble of eter­nal­ly car­ry­ing a dou­ble author­i­ty, that of the prince, on the one hand, and that of pub­lic usage, on the oth­er, which medal-mon­ey uni­fies per­fect­ly as index, icon, sym­bol, and thing…[I]t is an index that gives to the marked object its own poten­tial, that makes of it an effi­ca­cious sign , and very pre­cise­ly a pow­er.” (Louis Marin, The Por­trait of the King , Min­neapo­lis: Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neapo­lis Press, 1988, p. 127).

14  Michael North, The Pub­lic as Sculp­ture” in Art and the Pub­lic Sphere (W.J.T. Mitchell, ed.), Chica­go: Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go Press, 1990, p. 16.

15The twin Vic­to­ry Arch­es were designed to be the high­est in the world, two and half times the height of the Arc de Tri­om­phe in Paris. Hitler also designed a tri­umphal arch in 1925, inspired by and meant to com­pete with the Arc de Tri­om­phe (it was also to be two and a half times high­er). It was to be a mon­u­ment to the Ger­man sol­diers killed in World War I (Samir al-Khalil, pp. 38–39).

16Siegried Kra­cauer, The Mass Orna­ment: Weimar Essays , Cam­bridge: Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1995.

17North, p. 15.

18See Louis Marin The Fox’s Tac­tics” in The Por­trait of the King , pp. 94–104.

19One of Sad­dam’s many homes crowns a hill over­look­ing the site [of Baby­lon], which sug­gests that the won­ders of ancient Babylon…are sim­ply fol­lies on the grounds of his estate. The guide sneaks a timid peek at the palace, and then ducks back inside the ruins, as if Sad­dam him­self might be gaz­ing down with a crit­i­cal eye.” (Edward McBride, Mon­u­ments to Self: Bagh­dad’s Grand Projects in the Age of Sad­dam Hus­sein,” (http://www.metropolismag.com/html/content_0699/ju99monu.htm).

20Jean Bau­drillard, Sim­u­la­tions, NY: Semiotext[e], 1983.

21Ernst Kan­torow­icz, The King’s Two Bod­ies: A Study in Medi­ae­val Polit­i­cal The­ol­o­gy , Prince­ton, Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1957.

22Edmund Plow­den , Com­men­taries or Reports quot­ed in Kan­torow­icz, p. 7.

23Gior­gio Agambe, Homo Sac­er: Sov­er­eign Pow­er and Bare Life, Stan­ford, CA: Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1998, p. 93.

24Ander­son, p. 11–12.

25Ander­son, p. 5.

26Ander­son, p. 7.

27Hardt/Negri, p. 95.

28Hardt/Negri, p. 268.

29Hardt/Negri, pp. 70–83.

30Aziz al-Azmeh, Mus­lim King­ship: Pow­er and the Sacred in Mus­lim, Chris­t­ian, and Pagan Poli­ties , London/NY: I.B. Tau­ris Pub­lish­ers, 1997, p. 154.

31Al-Azmeh, p. 7. The basileus was a Byza­tine ruler.

32Al-Azmeh, p. 25.

33Ander­son, p. 19.

34Abdel­wa­hab Med­deb, Islam and its Dis­con­tents” in Octo­ber 99 , Cam­bridge: MIT Press, Win­ter 2002, p. 6.

35Al-Azmeh, p. 103.

36Baram, p. 136.

37Boris Groys, The Total Art of Stal­in­ism , Prince­ton: Prince­ton UP, 1992, p. 62.

38Groys, p. 49.

39Baram, p. 78.

40San­dra Mack­ey, The Reck­on­ing: Iraq and the Lega­cy of Sad­dam Hus­sein , NY/London: W.W. Nor­ton and Com­pa­ny, 2002, p. 182.

41Mack­ey, p.184.

42Al-Khalil, p. 78.

43Baram, p. 135.

44Robert D. Lee, Over­com­ing Tra­di­tion and Moder­ni­ty: The Search for Islam­ic Authen­tic­i­ty , Boul­der: West­view Press, 1997, p. 12.

45Baram, p. 21.

46McBride

47Chat­ter­jee, p. 5.

48Aziz Al-Azmeh, Islams and Moder­ni­ties , London/New York: Ver­so, 1996, p. 75.

49Kan­torow­icz, p. viii

50An ear­ly man­i­fes­ta­tion of the king’s two bod­ies” in pagan” soci­eties is out­lined in René Girard’s Vio­lence and the Sacred ( Bal­ti­more : Johns Hop­kins, 1977) , where­by the dou­bling of the sacred king, and the sac­ri­fic­ing of the king’s dou­ble in the form of a sur­ro­gate vic­tim, was nec­es­sary to the preser­va­tion of a giv­en soci­ety.

51Patrick Mar­tin, The stage-man­aged events in Bagh­dad’s Fir­dos Square” (www. wsws.org/articles/2003/apr2003/fird-a12.shtml

52W.J.T. Mitchell, Art and the Pub­lic Sphere , p. 4.

53Komar & Melamid What is to Be Done With Mon­u­men­tal Pro­pa­gan­da?” in Mon­u­men­tal Pro­pa­gan­da , NY: Inde­pen­dent Cura­tors Incor­po­rat­ed, 1995, p. 10.

(Pub­lished in Pub­lic Mag­a­zine, Win­ter 2004)