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Last Updated:  Monday, 7 April, 2003, 16:33 GMT 17:33 UK
Inside Saddam's ornate palaces
By Richard Edwards

Marine in Palace
Stunning: Saddam's Basra Palace
Fifty-six windows on its facade, 18 giant rooms, 12 balconies, eight spacious toilets, five staircases and three separate roof units.

And this is just one of 15 sumptuous buildings in the same complex.

While all around the south of Iraq people live in squalor, who would live in a palace like this?

The answer is obvious: Saddam Hussein.

Royal Marines yesterday (Monday) swept through the buildings and grounds of one of the Iraqi dictator's homes in the south east suburbs of Basra.

The palace was built by Saddam in 1990 on what is believed to have been the grounds of a park that was open to the public.

Never there

Local people say that despite the wealth lavished on the palace, the president did not spend much time at the place.

With support for Saddam fading in the town, commandos waltzed past magnificent stone arched gates and into the expansive surrounds.

The sight was one to behold - the Shatt-Al-Arab waterway weaving through a series of spectacular mansions, flanked by palm trees and exotic gardens.

But after three weeks of trudging through the poverty-stricken slums of Umm Qasr and Umm Khayyal, it was a vision that made soldiers' blood boil.

Major Kev Oliver, commander of 42 Commando's J Company, said: "The palaces in all their splendour provide a very interesting contrast to the towns of the far south.

"Here you have mansions bedecked in gold and pine. There they have absolutely nothing."

The men of J Company entered the grounds at dawn with eight of the Desert Rats' Challenger II tanks roaring alongside in support. They found no snipers, no soldiers, no resistance at all.

All they discovered were 200 AK47 rifles and dozens of rocket-propelled grenades, tossed away by fleeing troops.

Scene of beauty

Meanwhile, commandos moved into the palace in their droves to catch a glimpse of the curious home of Saddam.

They passed over a series of delicate white-stoned bridges, which criss-crossed the river and reservoirs, swallows flying below them close to the water.

The capture by US forces of one of Saddam Hussein's palaces in Baghdad has, for the first time, yielded its secrets to the outside world

Then they reached the main palace and a mighty stone porch, held aloft by four green marble pillars that disappeared upwards into the blue sky.

Marines proceeded, with caution, through two 18-foot varnished doors, the light gaping through to illuminate a large marble floor, with a hexagonal, ornate pine balcony and ceiling dome above.

There the soldiers stood for a minute, like schoolchildren staring up at the roof of Westminster Abbey.

The commandos continued their task, moving through each of the dozens of rooms, wary of hidden soldiers or booby traps.

The insides were bare - the palace had not been lived in for months and had already been targeted by looters.

All that was left were the gold taps on the baths and the beautifully crafted wooden-arched hallways and balconies.

The hallways and rooms seemed to sum up Saddam's crumbling grip on his country.

They looked impressive and overbearing, but inside there was no substance.

They were empty and bare.

  • Pooled copy by Richard Edwards of the Western Daily Press.

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