Of his countless stories of his life as a hairdresser in Iraq, the one Qaiss al-Sharaa most enjoys retelling is about the day April 9, 2003, when he watched Iraqis and American Marines pull down the statue of Saddam Hussein in front of his salon in Baghdad’s Firdos Square. The 12-meter (39-foot) statue of the Iraqi dictator extending his right hand had been erected just a year earlier to celebrate his 65th birthday. “There were lots of younger Iraqis from around the country with the American troops topping the statue – who naturally wanted their freedom,” al-Sharaa told The Associated Press. “The statue showed the face of a man everyone feared.” For the world, it became an iconic moment of the US-led invasion; live TV coverage as Marines tied the statue to a vehicle to pull the statue down inflated it into a symbol of the end of Saddam’s quarter century rule. In reality, the Firdos Square statue was a minor part of the huge number of monuments and palaces that Saddam erected to show off his power. All his statues and images are long gone now, 20 years after that day. Many of his palaces and buildings have been repurposed for a new Iraq. But much of the hope that came in wiping away Saddam’s oppressive visual presence has also evaporated, burned away first by years of brutal violence and now by a wrecked economy and rampant corruption by the new political elite of sectarian-based factions. Firdos Square has been refurbished as a small park, funded by private banks. On a building towering over the square is a large mural of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani – assassinated in a 2020 US drone strike – and Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. It is the sort of Shiite imagery that proliferates around Baghdad because of the domination of Iran-backed Shiite parties in the government. “This new garden that replaced Saddam’s represents the widespread corruption in Iraq today, underneath the nice greenery and fountains,” said al-Sharaa. He said that while he doesn’t miss Saddam’s rule he does miss “the rule of the law.” “Families are too scared to take their kids there, because drug dealers hang out there at night,” he said of the square. It’s not known what happened to most of the Saddam statue, but pieces of it were taken away by souvenir hunters. A group of young US Marines from Utah in 2003 said they sawed off the statue’s right hand and intended to sell it on eBay. But it disappeared from their cargo as they tried to smuggle it home on their military flight back. All they have is the photo they took of themselves holding it like a prized fish. In 2016, a German antiques dealer said he bought Hussein’s left leg and then resold it on eBay for over $100,000. British journalist Nigel Ely wrote a 2017 book about a chunk of Saddam’s left buttock that he pried off the statue. He tried to auction it off for charity but didn’t get a high enough bid. Saddam’s policy of filling Baghdad and other cities with palaces and statues and portraits of himself “created this image of this divine leader,” Senior Research Fellow at Chatham House Renad Mansour told the AP. Saddam “needed to project power in different ways to remind the people who was in charge.” Some of Saddam’s signature monuments remain in place, largely because they had a nationalist meaning that went beyond him.