Years af­ter hang­ing, Sad­dam mys­tery lives on

Kuwait Times - - International -

AL-AWJAH: In his na­tive vil­lage of Al-Awjah, the mau­soleum of Iraq’s ex­e­cuted dic­ta­tor Sad­dam Hus­sein has been re­duced to bro­ken con­crete and tan­gled barbed wire, show­ing no trace of his re­mains. The man who ruled Iraq with an iron fist for a quar­ter of a cen­tury was hanged at dawn on De­cem­ber 30, 2006, de­light­ing many of the coun­try’s long-op­pressed ma­jor­ity Shi­ites and sym­bol­iz­ing the hu­mil­i­a­tion of Sad­dam’s fel­low Sun­nis. US pres­i­dent Ge­orge W Bush then per­son­ally au­tho­rized the im­me­di­ate trans­fer of the dic­ta­tor’s body on an Amer­i­can mil­i­tary he­li­copter from Bagh­dad to the north­ern city of Tikrit, near Al-Awjah.

But to­day, mys­tery and doubt hang over the fi­nal rest­ing place of a man whose very name for decades filled Iraqis with dread. Is his body still in Al-Awjah or was it ex­humed, and, if so, where to? Sheikh Manaf Ali al-Nida, a leader of the Albu Nasser tribe to which Sad­dam’s clan be­longs, has held on to a let­ter his fam­ily signed when they re­ceived the body, agree­ing that Sad­dam be buried with­out de­lay. Sad­dam, 69, was laid to rest be­fore dawn in the mau­soleum he had com­mis­sioned years ear­lier.

The place turned into a richly-adorned pil­grim­age site to which sup­port­ers and groups of lo­cal school chil­dren would flock on his birth­day, April 28. To­day, vis­i­tors need spe­cial autho­riza­tion to enter, the site lies in ru­ins, and Sheikh Nida has been forced to leave the vil­lage and seek refuge in Iraqi Kur­dis­tan. Since the 2003 US-led in­va­sion, his tribe has been “op­pressed be­cause we were close” to Sad­dam, he said, wear­ing the tra­di­tional robes and kef­fiyeh head­scarf of Iraq’s tribes. “Is it nor­mal that we should pay such a heavy price for gen­er­a­tion af­ter gen­er­a­tion just be­cause we’re from the same fam­ily?”

‘Blown up’

At Sad­dam’s grave, the mainly Shi­ite paramil­i­taries of the Hashed Al-Shaabi coali­tion, tasked with se­cu­rity in the area, say the mau­soleum was de­stroyed in an Iraqi air strike af­ter the Is­lamic State ji­hadist group posted snipers on its roof. Sheikh Nida was not there to wit­ness the blast­but he is con­vinced that Sad­dam’s tomb was “opened and blown up”. Jaa­far Al-Gharawi, the Hashed’s se­cu­rity chief, in­sisted: “The body is still there.” One of his fight­ers, how­ever, spec­u­lated that Sad­dam’s ex­iled daugh­ter Hala had flown in on a pri­vate plane and whisked her fa­ther’s body away to Jor­dan.

“Im­pos­si­ble!” said a univer­sity pro­fes­sor and long­time stu­dent of the Sad­dam era, who de­clined to give his name. “Hala has never come back to Iraq,” he said. “(The body) could have been taken to a secret place... no­body knows who moved it or where.” If that was the case, Sad­dam’s fam­ily would have closely guarded the secret of the lo­ca­tion, he added. Sad­dam’s tomb could have suf­fered the same fate as that of his fa­ther, at the en­trance to the vil­lage, which was un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously blown up. But some, in­clud­ing Bagh­dad res­i­dent Abu Samer, be­lieve the Iraqi strong­man is still out there. “Sad­dam’s not dead,” he said. “It was one of his dou­bles who was hanged.”—AFP

AL ‘AWJAH: An Iraqi fighter from the Hashed Al-Shaabi (Pop­u­lar Mo­bi­liza­tion Units) checks the se­verely dam­aged tomb of the late Iraqi dic­ta­tor Sad­dam Hus­sein in the vil­lage of Al-Awja. —AFP

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