The Saddam Hussein statue famously pulled down in Baghdad’s main square is at the center of a dispute between the Iraqi government and a former SAS soldier.
The Saddam statue was pulled down by a US tank exactly ten years ago today in scenes that were broadcast around the world. However, parts of the statue were taken by troops or civilians as souvenirs. The Iraqi government is demanding the return of the missing pieces, arguing it is “part of their historical and cultural heritage.”
Fifty-three-year-old Nigel Ely owns one of the pieces requested by Iraq. Specifically, he owns Saddam’s left buttock.
Former British paratrooper Ely, who served in the 1990-91 Gulf War, was working as a photojournalist in Baghdad in April 2003. When he showed up in Baghdad’s Firdous Square the day after the statue was hauled down, he tells the BBC the statue was “surrounded by tanks.”
Ely recalls how he introduced himself as a Gulf War veteran to US marines guarding the relic before asking whether he could take a piece of it:
“They said ‘Yea, buddy’ and I hacked off a piece with the help of the US marines.”
Armed with a sledgehammer and chisel, Mr. Ely broke off a 0.6m chunk of the bronze statue depicting the late dictator’s buttock. He had acquired a memorable souvenir.
In the years since, Ely has attempted to sell the bronzed buttock, even turning the chunk of statue into a piece of “war relic art.” He intends to raise money for military charities and groups, but buyers seem in short supply. In October 2011, the relic failed to meet its reserve of $383,000 in an auction in Derby.
In 2012, UK police questioned Mr. Ely over the statue after receiving a complaint from the Iraqi government. Mr. Ely has since said he has tried to resolve the matter with the Iraqi authorities but with no luck. He says:
“Everyone is running scared of it. Maybe they just don’t want to be associated with it [the statue].”
The former soldier has said he aims to strike a deal with the Iraqi government whereby the troublesome buttock can be sold to raise money for charity.