Iraq’s Modernist Monument to the 14 July Revolution

On 14 July 1958 a secret military group of Arab nationalists, known as the Free Officers, staged a coup d’état in Iraq. The revolution aimed to eliminate the Hashemith monarchy and the last vestiges of British colonial rule in the country. During the coup 23-year-old King Faisal II and his family were assassinated, removing a key ally in the West’s attempts to combat Soviet influence in the Middle East. Following the pattern of so many post-revolutionary countries, the Republic of Iraq rapidly descended into a militarised state controlled by an oppressive regime, which gave rise to the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.

In 1959 the famous painter and sculptor Jawad Saleem was asked by the Iraqi government to design a monument to commemorate the 14 July Revolution. The El Haria (Liberty) Monument in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square is today one of the city’s most iconic landmarks and has overlooked many dramatic scenes during the republic’s turbulent history.

The frieze, which blends neo-classical design with modernist flair, comprises 25 human figures together with a horse and a bull, cast in bronze and welded together against a marble background. Although Saleem’s death in 1961 prevented his seeing the final construction, it remains a lasting tribute to Iraq’s history as a centre for modern art.

Images: Baghdad’s Tahrir Square by Ahmed Al Jrah

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