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Posted on Nov 21, 2006 in Front Page Features, Stuff We Like

Red Bulls in Iraq – Pt. 7: A Trip to Baghdad: Pt 1

By Cpt. Fernando A Franco

My first impression of the palace was one of being outside a fortress. It was a square, sand-colored building with little decoration on the outside walls except for a big eagle covering the main entrance, a well-maintained garden, and the typical arches of Arabic architecture. I’m sure that during Saddam Hussein’s reign, this palace and the other 77 he built for himself and his inner circle were more pompous than now, but it still kept alive a certain essence of its past glory.

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Once inside of the palace, I was impressed by the amount of decoration on the walls and ceilings. It was full of passages from the Koran. Personally, I liked the decoration and its beauty, but some of the other soldiers in my group found it to be “too much” and in bad taste. The floors and walls were covered in Italian marble. The ceiling was populated with chandeliers of all shapes and sizes, and there was a door covered mostly in gold. Now, I don’t know if it was real gold or just painted, but the fact that Hussein made his people struggle to earn a living while he decorated his 78 palaces really make you wonder.

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By the way, Hussein was so afraid for his life that he never spent more than three days at a time in any one palace. I guess that’s why he needed so many. He basically became a prisoner of his system, a gypsy in his own country.

One of the rooms I walked through has a dome decorated with a painting of the Rock of the Dome (a holly place in Jerusalem that is sacred for all Muslims). Next to it is a painting of four rockets with the warheads aimed directly at Israel. If these were real rockets, they would be close enough to land on Israel.

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The bathrooms still maintain their past glory. The faucets are painted — or perhaps actually covered in — gold. I didn’t have the time to discover the truth.

Wandering through the long corridors, full of chandeliers and Arabic passages written on walls, I thought of another time when this and the other dozens of were full of Hussein’s inner circle and lots of pride in what he showed to the world. For so many years he spent his country’s wealth for his own good, and now he only can dream of this glory from his jail cell where he waits for word of his ultimate faith.

I walked out of the palace and into the front yard. The sun gave us a warm welcome and invited us jump into the palace swimming pool, not far from the main entrance. The pool wasn’t that big, sort of like the ones you find in a five-star hotel. It had a trampoline and scores of chairs around it. There was a big tree next to the pool that provided a nice shady area where we could seat and take a brief break from the heat. I could see most of the palace from the pool, and I couldn’t help but wonder why someone would spend so much money and so many resources to enjoy a palace for just three nights at the time.

We left the palace compound and headed to our next destination, the Victory Monument. I’ll talk about that in my next entry.

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