Wanted: Investors to turn Saddam's villas into gold

Wed Mar 31, 2010 8:31am EDT
 
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By Sabah al-Bazi

TIKRIT, Iraq (Reuters Life!) - Saddam Hussein made his palaces a desert paradise, but now his hometown is seeking foreign investors to turn the late dictator's playground into a tourist mecca.

Local officials see the 76 abandoned Saddam villas sprawled across hundreds of hectares (acres) as a potential gold mine for Tikrit's cash-strapped Salahuddin province.

"These villas only need rehabilitation and a few other things to turn the whole area into a wonderful tourism site," Jewher Hamad al-Fahel, the head of Salahuddin's investment commission, told Reuters Television.

Saddam built big at Tikrit, his tribal stronghold about 150 km (95 miles) north of Baghdad. He put up six villas at his birthplace, the village of al-Awja, alone and made the Tikrit palace complex his largest.

Boasting artificial lakes and date orchards, the site totals 136 buildings and covers more than 400 hectares (1,000 acres), according to the U.S. Army. American troops used it as a base until turning it over to Iraqi authorities in November 2005.

Now many of the sand-colored structures, often domed and turreted and with marbled interiors, sit decaying near the Tigris River. Some still show heavy damage from the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that overthrew Saddam.

SMOOTHING THE WAY

Salahuddin Governor Mutasher Hussein Allawi said he was eager to smooth the way for foreign investment in the villas since his budget was too small to rebuild decrepit infrastructure quickly.   Continued...

 
<p>A convoy of vehicles for VIPs leave the U.S. army headquarters, the former palace of ousted saddam Hussein, on the day of the visit of U.S. defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld in Tikrit, about 110 miles (180 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad September 5, 2003. REUTERS/Arko Datta</p>