Thursday, June 08, 2006

Painting Captures U.S. Arrogance, Artist Says

by Hamza Hendawi
Associated Press
June 8, 2006

AP Photo/Samir Mizban

The photo both enraged and inspired Muayad Muhsin: U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sitting back in an airplane seat, his feet — in heavy army boots — stretched out in front of him.

"It symbolized America's soulless might and arrogance," said Muhsin, whose painting of Rumsfeld in a similar pose is to be unveiled in an exhibition opening in Baghdad on Monday.

That painting and the rest of the exhibit illustrate the simmering anger of Iraqis with the United States as the country continues to endure violence, sectarian tensions and crime three years after Saddam Hussein's ouster.

After President George W. Bush, most Iraqis see Rumsfeld as the man behind the invasion of their oil-rich country and the chief architect of U.S. military actions in Iraq.

Those who closely follow Rumsfeld remember his infamous comment — "Stuff happens" — when asked why U.S. troops did not actively seek to stop the lawlessness in the Iraqi capital in the weeks that followed the city's capture in April 2003.

Another memorable Rumsfeld comment, also made in 2003, was his suggestion that Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction were deeply hidden in Iraq. "It's a big country," he said.

Muhsin first saw the Rumsfeld photo about 18 months ago. He went to work right away, but did not finish the painting — titled "Picnic" — until recently.

The oil-on-canvas work shows Rumsfeld in a blue jacket, tie, khaki pants and army boots reading from briefing papers. His boots are resting on what appears to be an ancient stone.

He sits next to a partially damaged statue of a lion standing over a human — a traditional image of strength in ancient Babylon. The statue's stone base is ripped open, revealing shelves from which white pieces of papers are flying away, later turning into birds.

Muhsin said the symbolism has to do with Washington's repeated assertions before the U.S.-led invasion that Saddam's regime had weapons of mass destruction, the cornerstone of the Bush's argument for going to war.

No such weapons turned up, but the Bush administration maintained that removing Saddam's regime alone justified the decision to invade Iraq.

"Rumsfeld's boots deliver a message from America: `We rule the world,'" Muhsin, 41, said in an interview. "It speaks of America's total indifference to what the rest of the world thinks."

Muhsin said he signed the painting in the middle, instead of the customary bottom corner, to avoid having it under Rumsfeld's boots.

"The Americans brought us rosy dreams but left us with nightmares. They came with a broad smile but gave us beheaded bodies and booby-trapped cars."

Copyright Toronto Star Newspapers Limited


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