Red Bulls in Iraq – Pt. 8: A Trip to Baghdad: Pt 2
In my last entry, I described my visit to one of Saddam Hussein’s 78 palaces and wondered how someone could spend so much money and resources on himself and his close circle of family and friends when his own people were just barely making a living. As I boarded the bus that would take us to another of Hussein’s extravagant homes, I took a last look at the palace and what surprises the next stop might bring us.
As we rode on one of the main avenues of the green zone, I could see mile after mile of fortified walls protecting the area, the coalition forces patrolling in their armored vehicles, common Iraqi citizens walking in the street, and the echo of a bomb in the distance. It was loud enough for me to know that it was not a minor explosion and a few minutes later, I heard the sirens of Iraqi ambulances rushing to the site outside of the green zone.
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As we approached our destination, the bus stopped to pick up a pretty, 20-something Iraqi college student (a wild guess on my part due to her college algebra books). She was wearing the traditional Middle Eastern dress with her hair covered by a veil. Her face was uncovered, showing off the exotic beauty of Middle Eastern women — big brown eyes, tan skin, and dark hair. I heard her speak perfect English when she asked the civilian driver for directions. She brought back memories of when I was a college student, trying to get educated and hoping to land a good job in my field. But then the sound of sirens blaring brought me back to reality. My thoughts turned to how violence is now a daily occurrence and that even if a young person is lucky enough to finish college, his or her chances of getting a job are very slim. The economy is still very weak and the government has yet to gain a foothold in the country. I’m sure this young woman was looking forward to a brighter future some day.
We arrived at the Victory Monument, and like the palace, it was a building dedicated to inflate Saddam Hussein’s ego and show the Iraqi people who was in charge. It’s a compound that includes a reception building, parade grounds, a small manmade lake with a fountain, and two sets of crossed swords at either end of the parade grounds.
The monument was built to commemorate Iraq’s victory over Iran in their ten-year war. Well, depending on who you ask, you’ll get a different answer about which country won the war. The funny part about the monument is that Hussein built it 3 years before the war ended. Since the Iraqi people believed him when he (prematurely) said he had won, he thought it fitting to build a monument to his victory.
The parade grounds are the actual ones where Hussein’s army used to march, where he addressed his soldiers and guests, and where he used to shoot a rifle into the air from the presidential balcony. Remember the television images?
|View of the building from the parade ground.||The parade ground.|
The building is about 300 meters long and five stories tall, with the central part open and where you can see the presidential balcony, and rows of theatre-style seating on either side. I bet it could seat about 500 people. Its glory days are long gone, but it’s still impressive in its demonstration of how Saddam Hussein spared no cost in showing the world that he was the center of Iraq.
We were at the entrance to the parade grounds, a half-mile-long avenue that could easily accommodate three T-72 Russian tanks, the standard tank of Saddam’s army, side by side. The ends of the avenue are flanked by crossed swords that are taller than the building. The sword blades were, according to some local vendors nearby, made out of the melted rifles of Iranian soldiers killed during the war. The steel still shines in the midday sun. Each sword is held by a hand, exact replicas of Saddam Hussein’s hands made from casts taken by the German artist commissioned to build them. The hands are also made from the melted rifles and helmets of the Iranian soldiers.
|Me in Baghdad!||Victory sword ,made from melted Iranian soldiers’ guns. The hand was cast from Saddam’s own.|
The helmets are glued to the concrete that form the pedestal, but local street vendors have managed to remove some of them to sell as souvenirs for $3 US along with all kind of military paraphernalia from Saddam’s Army. If you’re a war collector, this is the place to be. A few dollars will buy you a lot of neat military stuff.
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