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4/13/03 - SADDAM’S PALACES SEIZED - 2003-04-14

“Lavish.” “Ostentatious.” “Decadent.” These were some of the words used by journalists to describe Saddam Hussein’s palaces. Journalists inspected Baghdad area palaces after they were taken over by forces of the U.S.-led coalition.

In the dozen years since the Persian Gulf War, Saddam Hussein built nearly fifty such palaces at a cost of more than two-billion dollars. This was done while hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children were suffering and dying from malnutrition and disease because the Saddam Hussein regime refused for years to accept the oil-for-food program proposed by the United Nations. After the program finally got underway in 1996, ample food and medicine were available for Iraq to purchase with proceeds from its oil exports. But the regime continued to smuggle oil to purchase weapons and luxuries. With the coalition’s seizure of the palaces, the whole world can see how Saddam Hussein spent Iraq’s resources on comforts for himself and his clique -- while Iraqi children were denied the necessities of life.

One of the grandest structures is the Abu Ghurayb [grabe] Presidential Palace near Baghdad International Airport. Surrounded by a fish-stocked moat, its grounds cover about a square kilometer. The palace is decorated in gold and lined with marble. It is full of crystal chandeliers, gilded furniture, European china -- and portraits of Saddam Hussein.

“It confirms why we’re here,” said U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Rock Marcone. “This regime, all it does is honor itself. They build these huge lavish living quarters for the select few, but the rest of the country lives dirt-poor.”

But as President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair made clear at their April 8th meeting in Northern Ireland, a new day is coming. The coalition, said Prime Minister Blair, will work to get food, water, and medicine to the Iraqi people, and then help the country move to an interim authority run by Iraqis:

“And that, in turn, is designed to pave the way for a truly representative government which respects human rights and the rule of law; which spends Iraq’s wealth not on palaces and weapons of mass destruction, but on the well-being, prosperity of the people of Iraq.”

The work will not be easy. But as President Bush said, the coalition is “going to see it through.”