Ismail Fattah studied painting and sculpture, under the instruction of Jewad Selim, at the Institute of Fine Arts, Baghdad, from 1952 to 1958 (he received his Diploma in Painting in 1956, and in Sculpture in 1958). He went on to train in Rome, studying sculpture at the Accademia di Belle Arti, and ceramics at the Accademia San Giacomo, in 1964. Returning to Baghdad in 1965, Fattah taught ceramics, and later sculpture (from 1969), at the Academy of Fine Arts until the late-1990s. He was president of the Society of Iraqi Artists for Abstract Art, from 1971 to 1978. He was also a member of the Baghdad Group of Modern Art, joined Al-Zawya in 1967,and was a founding member of the New Vision group (he exhibited his work at their first group show in 1969). Along with Selim, Fattah is regarded as one of Iraq's preeminent modern sculptors (though both artists were also painters). Other than The Monument of the Martyr, his public commissions include the Monuments of Iraqi poets: al-Wasiti; al-Farabi, 1970 – 75; Lawyer’s Union Façade, Ministry of Industry, 1967, and the Conference Palace, Baghdad, 1983. Towards the end of his life Fattah lived and worked in Qatar; after being diagnosed with cancer he travelled to Abu Dhabi to receive treatment. On 22 July 2004, his family chartered a plane so that he could return to Iraq—he passed away hours after his arrival in Baghdad.
Fattah held solo and group exhibitions, displaying both sculpture and painting, in Rome, Baghdad, London and Beirut. These include the Arts Culture Palace, 1963, Modern Artists Gallery, 1964 and Laurina Gallery, Rome, 1965; National Museum of Modern Art and Al-Wasiti Gallery, Baghdad, 1965; Twelve Arab Artists, Galerie Faris, Paris, 1980; Contemporary Arab Artists I, Iraqi Cultural Centre, London, 1978; Venice Biennale, 1976; Kufa Gallery, London, 1988, and National Museum of Modern Art, Baghdad, 1990. His work is held in private and public collections including Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha; Kinda Foundation, Saudi Arabia; Darat al-Funun and Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, Amman and Museum of Modern Art, Baghdad.