The Iraqi government is attempting to reclaim the bottom of an infamous Saddam Hussein statue from an ex-SAS soldier, arguing the dictator’s brass posterior is a “cultural antiquity”.
Nigel “Spud” Ely took the rear end of the bronze statue during the fall of Baghdad in 2003, managing to smuggle the 12kg slab back to the UK. After preserving and displaying the item, Ely attempted to sell the piece at auction last October – hoping to raise £250,000 for military charities.
Despite failing to match that sum he is close to selling it to a “private, foreign buyer” after rejecting a previous offer for £90,000. Plans for the sale have been put on hold however, as the Iraqi cultural minister wants it returned to Baghdad.
“Their government said it was a cultural antiquity and it comes under the UN control order that taking of Iraqi cultural heritage out of the country is a crime,” Nigel Ely told Yahoo! News. “I said it wasn’t under Iraqi control, it was given to me by US Marine Corps and it was under American control.”
Mr Ely was interviewed under caution by police after a request was sent from the Iraqi embassy in London. He signed a document to prohibit the sale or defacing of the bronze piece until a solution had been agreed with the Iraqi government.
“I want to keep it unless the Iraqis want to cut a deal with me whereby we can sell it on the open market – if it doesn’t go to this buyer,” Mr Ely told Yahoo! News. “I’ll split the proceeds with charities this end and whatever the Iraqi charities want.
“I find it incredulous. They think they have a legitimate claim and I can see it from their side. They’ve only come at me because of the value. I don’t see how it could be culturally significant to them, the Iraqi people ripped it down and smashed it up.”
While the agreement is in place Mr Ely cannot sell the item, with proceeds planned to go to the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine and the US-based ‘Hope For The Warriors’ charity.
“They won’t take it from me, it would have to be under duress,” he said. “I’m going to give them another week then will seek some closure on it, I’m not leaving it in limbo that’s for sure.”