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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Nearly six years after Iraqis and U.S. soldiers toppled grandiose monuments erected by Saddam Hussein, Iraq plans to put up 100 new art works it hopes will stand as affirmations of a new era of peace.
Before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, all statues and monuments in public squares made reference to Saddam's Baath party or told a story about its military victories against Iraq's numerous enemies.
Along with the giant Saddam statue that U.S. troops pulled down from Baghdad's al-Firdous square before television cameras in April 2003, many other images of the former president, often in military uniform, dotted the city.
Outside an Agriculture Ministry office, a mural depicted Saddam tilling the fields with a spade. At the Justice Ministry, he appeared in a gown, holding scales of justice.
Most of the murals have since been painted over and the statues destroyed by Iraqis in the chaos that followed the invasion. Sometimes, statues were pillaged for their metal.
Others still stand. Among them is a bronze statue of Iraqi soldiers standing on a tank and holding an Iraqi flag to symbolise victory over Iran during their bloody 1980-88 war.
In the heavily fortified Green Zone diplomatic compound, two pairs of giant arms emerge from the ground, hundreds of metres away from each other, holding crossed swords to form an arch across a parades ground. They were modeled on Saddam's hands and cast using 160 tonnes of bronze.
Iraq wants to replace such monuments with symbols of peace.
Mohammed Tahir al-Timimi, head of the government's Statues and Murals Committee, told Reuters there were plans to replace the swords with a statue of a rifle with a twisted barrel.
"It is an announcement that we are abandoning violence and are unwilling to use the weapon to harm the new Iraq."
It is still early days, and the committee's plans for erecting new statues are not far advanced. Timimi said he had asked Iraqi artists the world over to submit ideas.
What to depict is up to the artists.
"We did not determine the subject matter of the art at all in order not to be accused of political influence," Timimi said. "We want beautiful statues that instil pleasure and calm."
Artists hailed the plan as symbolising their hopes.
"We have a lot of ideas, like statues of intellectuals or writers, because Baghdad is the cradle of civilisation," said Murtadha Hedad, a sculptor and professor at Baghdad University's College of Fine Arts.
Another college professor, who fashions abstract ceramic art, was worried that the violence that has plagued Iraq since Saddam's downfall would make artists afraid to participate.
He asked not to be named, as militants have threatened him.
"We are all dreaming of making Baghdad like Paris, but ... the poor security is sapping artists' energy," he said.
One of his most recent pieces, which he hesitates to promote as it hardly celebrates Iraq's happy future, depicts three people shackled to the wall in the chancel of a ruined temple.
It represents Iraq still chained by violence and its occupation by U.S. forces, he said.
Meanwhile, the old Saddam monuments may end up in a new museum to be erected near the Martyr Statue, a monument built in the 1980s to glorify Iraqis who died in the Iran-Iraq war.
"Iraq is ... in transition from a dictatorial system to a democracy," Timimi said. "A supporting pillar is to shift art away from a single person to depict all aspects of Iraq."
Editing by Tim Cocks and Michael Christie