Saddam Hussein builds palaces to rival Versailles

Iraq/ the master builder

IRAQIS who left Baghdad this week have confirmed American claims that President Saddam Hussein has spent more than £1.22bn since 1990 building new palaces and renovating old ones.

"They are like the palaces in stories of Sinbad and Arabian Nights," said an Iraqi builder involved in putting the final touches to the biggest and most elaborate of President Saddam's 30 or so palatial projects.

The builder - who would not disclose his name - described the palace of Maqar-el-Tharthar, which is built on the surface of a lake north west of Baghdad.

"It is at least four or five times bigger than the White House," said the Iraqi worker, who had a brief stop in London on his way to join his family in the United States. The builder said his good record in working on 15 different palaces for the president since the invasion of Kuwait has enabled him to pay only the equivalent of $5,000 for his exit visa and that of his wife and two children instead of $15,000.

"But I was careful not to show them that I can work with alabaster and that I know how to polish and treat marble," said the builder, who specialises in stone and plaster decoration, "otherwise I wouldn't be talking to you here."

He said that President Saddam's grand projects - and he puts the number of new palaces at around 30 in addition to the 19 which existed before the Gulf war - have created a great demand for masons and workers who are skilled in polishing and recycling broken marble.

To obtain marble and allabaster, whose import is banned by the United Nations, the Iraqis have taken to plundering ruins and tombs dating from the Babylonian era. Tons of marble looted from archaeological sites were used in building a new palace on the shore of an artificial lake, created by diverting the Tigris near Saddam Hussein's home town of Tikrit.

"While building the Tikrit palace," said the Iraqi builder, "we heard that the President [Saddam] was very angry because the US and Britain were banning the import of marble."

The UN sanctions committee, which allows import licences for other building materials, has pointedly turned down Iraqi applications to import marble, alabaster and water fountains - favourite items in President Saddam's palaces. The American ambassador to the UN, Madeleine Albright, canvassing against lifting the sanctions in the UN last year, showed Security Council members satellite photographs of buildings claimed to be new palaces which the president has erected since the war; but there was no eye-witness confirmation on the ground or pictures from inside Iraq.

The Iraqi builder also said he has been involved in renovating the Republican Palace in the capital, which has tripled in size, the Camp Taj retreat north of Baghdad, and the old palace of Baiji in Tikrit as well as a palace complex built on an island in lake Abu Gharib west of the capital. He was amazed by two projects. The first is a complex ofthree palaces connected by bridges over a maze of man-made canals and lakes adjacent to the ruins of Babylon.

But the most impressive presidential residence, according to the worker, is Qasr-Shatt al-Arab, a complex of buildings and four artificial lakes built along the waterway which separates Iraq and Iran.

"One of the French experts working there told us it was bigger than the palace at Versailles," he said.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This publishing company based i...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor