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Last Updated:  Thursday, 10 April, 2003, 14:53 GMT 15:53 UK
Twisted hulk is Saddam's testament
By Tom Newton Dunn
In Basra

Scorched and bomb-blasted, it is one of the last pathetic defiant symbols of Saddam Hussein's sunken regime.

The Iraqi tyrant's massive presidential yacht is still afloat, and drifting aimlessly with the tide on the Shatt-al-Arab waterway beside Basra's dockyards.

The mangled al-Mansur presidential yacht
The shattered yacht lies abandoned and drifting

Local bystanders counted 16 different bombs, shells and missiles - dropped from the air and fired from the ground - plough into it during the two-week siege of Iraq's second city.

But no matter how hard the coalition tried, they still couldn't sink it.

Nonetheless, the invaders' psychological point was well made, and the great floating hulk of twisted metal is now of use to nobody.

We persuaded local fishermen in a small dhow to take us out to the ship yesterday to take a look around.

Just the yacht's name - still visible in blue paint on its stern - together with a singed Iraqi flag hanging from a bent mast, were all that was left to identify the liner's once proud owner.

Ironically, Saddam Hussein had christened it al-Mansur, which means in Arabic, The Victor.

When it was launched in 1982, it was one of the largest and most impressive private yachts in the world.

It looked more like a smart cross-Channel ferry than a private yacht

Built by a Finnish firm, the eight-deck-tall yacht was for a long time the largest vessel in the Iraqi Navy despite having no military use.

It was designed to Saddam's personal specifications and sumptuously decorated all over in marble, exotic woods, and with silver and gold fittings.

Measuring 350ft long, the boat weighed 7,359 tons and looked more like a smart cross-Channel ferry than a private yacht.

In the yacht's middle was a broad glass atrium, under which as many as 200 guests could be seated for dinner.

Enormous bomb

But it contained just five expansive state cabins for Saddam and his family's personal use, and a secret escape route that descended down from the tyrant's own room into an underwater submarine launch pod.

The entire central section has all but disappeared where an enormous bomb tore straight through it a week ago.

A series of subsequent fires has also left much of the lesser damaged parts of the ship covered in a thick layer of black soot.

Well-polished mahogany railings lined the ship's exterior and internal passages.

And the very few panes of glass still left in the yacht's windows were all bullet-proofed.

We found a bathroom, again coated in soot, along with a bidet and a large Jacuzzi bath and rows of beauty lights surrounding a large mirror, all decorated in the style of a plush Arab hotel.

Saddam ordered the yacht to be moved under a full naval guard to Basra's inner harbour
In another larger room was an untidy heap of velvet-lined dining chairs, with the remains of a table tennis table thrown on top of them.

And through the last door we could open along the lop-sided middle deck corridor was the remains of what looked to be Saddam's private operating theatre.

Modern-looking surgical equipment, electronic scanners, packets of medicines and plastic gloves were scattered around a black leather operating table.

While the rest of Iraq suffered from a chronic shortage of medical supplies since the Gulf War in 1991, Saddam's personal on-board supplies appeared to have been unused for years.

The boat was permanently staffed by 120 military crew pulled from the ranks of Saddam's personal bodyguard force, the Special Republican Guard, who worked 24-hour standby shifts in case the leader himself decided to pay a visit.

Saddam's love for al-Mansur was proved just five days before the war began.

Despite all the other urgent war preparations, he had ordered the yacht to be moved under a full naval guard from its normal berth in the far southern port of Umm Qasr to Basra's inner harbour in a vain attempt to offer it better protection.

But the plan didn't work and no-one will use it now.

  • By pool reporter Tom Newton Dunn of the Daily Mirror in Basra




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