Although the concept of the triumphal arch is completely European, the Victoria Arch, officially known as the Swords of Quadisiyag, the pair of triumphal arches in central Bagdad, the capital city of Iraq, was constructed by the order of the fifth President of the country Saddam Hussein. Popularly known as the Hands of Victory or the Crossed Swords, each of the arches consists of a pair of strong and massive hands emerging from the ground, each holding a 141 feet (43 m) long sword, complete with a small flagpole rising from the point of meeting of the swords, at a height of around 130 feet (40 m) above the ground.
Two years before the end of the Iran-Iraq war, the Iraqi government proceeded to construct a festival and parade ground in Zawra Park, near the extensive presidential complex in the centre of Baghdad. Known as Grand Festivities Square, it comprises a large parade ground, an extensive review pavilion, a large reflecting pool, along with the Swords of Quadisiyag, an allusion to the historical Battle at Quadisiyyah when Arab armies defeated Sassanid Iran or Persia in the 7th-century and captured their capital, Ctesiphon. One of the arches marks the entrance to the ancient Imperial Palace. The Zawra Park originally housed the Museum of Gifts to the President and a performing arts centre, located on the ground floor of the grand reviewing pavilion. It is said that the pavilion was used by Saddam to review the Republican Guard while firing a weapon in the air.
Three monuments were constructed in the area as part of a broader program to beautify the city of Baghdad, to instill a sense of national pride among the commoners, and at the same time, to remember Iraq's pain and suffering as a consequence of the eight-year war. The Victoria Arches were built following the construction of the Monument to the Unknown Soldier in 1982, and Al-Shaheed Monument in 1953.
The two arches, marking the two entrances to the Great Celebrations square and the parade-ground, were constructed to commemorate the Iran-Iraq war from 1980 to 1988 and opened to the public on 8 August 1989. Later, the monument was dedicated in 1990, when Saddam rode under the arches on a milk-white horse, suggesting an allusion to the slain Shiite martyr Hussein, killed in Karbala in AD 680 AD, whose death caused the rift between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.
Based on the concept sketched by President Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s reputed sculptor Khaled al-Rahal used photographs and plaster casts of Saddam's forearms to model for the design of the hands. However, as Khaled al-Rahal died in 1987, before the completion of the monument, sculptor Mohammed Ghani Hikmat took the charges of the project. He personally took the initiative to get an impression of one of Saddam's thumbs, and the resulting fingerprint was added to the mold for one of the arches' thumbs.
The Victoria Arch depicting a pair of outstretched arms that seem to be exploding out of the ground, each holding a 141 feet long sword meets at a central point. The swords, made of stainless steel, are based on the weapons carried by Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas, the Arab leader at the Battle of Quadisiyyah. The arms rest on a concrete bases, and each base holds bronze nets containing some 2,500 helmets, which according to Saddam belonged to the Iranian soldiers killed during the war. Since in those days Iraq did not have a foundry sufficiently large enough to cast the sculpture, the arches were made by an international consortium led by the German foundry H+H Metallform. While the blades of the stainless steel swords composed of the metal from the guns and tanks of Iraqi soldiers and weighing 24 tons each were cast in Iraq, the hands and arms of the monument were cast in bronze by the Morris Singer Foundry in the United Kingdom.
Despite the intention of US Army General Norman Schwarzkopf to remove the Swords of Quadisiyag, it was not destroyed during the 1991 Persian Gulf War and remains standing in the International Zone of Bagdad. But all of a sudden, during the winter of February 2007, it was reported that the new Iraqi government had organized the Committee for Removing Symbols of the Saddam Era from the face of the country and the demolition of the Arc of Triumph monument promptly began on 20 February 2007. Nevertheless, the decision to remove the monument, made by Nouri al-Maliki, the then Prime Minister of Iraq, was immediately challenged by the US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, and the project of the demolition was blocked on the next day, as the government of Iraq had to revoke its earlier plans to demolish the monument. Finally, as a sign of reconciliation, the government of Iraq took a project to restore the monument in the month of February 2011.
The Victory Arch, one of the most photographed monuments of Bagdad, featured on the 100 dinar banknote of Iraq in 1991.