Saddam palace suffers as Iraq seeks tourists

Thu Jul 23, 2009 11:43am EDT
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By Mohammed Abbas

BABYLON, Iraq (Reuters) - Revenge and romance define the fate of one of Saddam Hussein's sumptuous palaces, to which Iraqis who suffered under his rule return to vandalize and others flock to honeymoon in a rare oasis of luxury.

The monolithic stone structure sits on a man-made hill overlooking the ancient city of Babylon, 100 km (62 miles) south of Baghdad, a naked attempt to compete with the grandeur of the millennia-old structures below.

Grand marble halls, stunning views of the Euphrates river and beautifully carved wall panels could make the building a handsome conference center or museum, but six years after Saddam's fall, Iraq is still struggling to encourage tourists.

"We've had to stop people visiting a month ago. They're coming to take revenge, breaking things and leaving graffiti," said Burkan Jabbar, deputy director of the palace grounds and associated buildings, which have been turned into a resort.

Iraqi authorities had planned to make use of the building but ran out of money for its rehabilitation after a fall in oil prices from last year dented Iraq's oil-dependent budget.

Nearby, the Babylon ruins are in need of repair and far from ready for tourists. Although security has improved greatly in Iraq, attacks are still common and keep most tourists away.

The palace, one of several constructed by Saddam, was built in 1988, before U.N. sanctions thrust many Iraqis into malnourishment and deprived others of needed medicine.

Looted after U.S. troops invaded in 2003, the palace also shows more recent signs of destruction. Fresh graffiti covers the walls, and the stench of urine makes it difficult to enter bathrooms once famed for their gold fittings.   Continued...

<p>A US marine stands on the terrace of Saddam Hussein's palace in the ancient town of Babylon, April 20, 2003. REUTERS/Jerry Lampen</p>