Monday, June 13, 2011

Don't Forget the Fish!

U.S. Troops in Iraq Leaving Saddam Palaces
[ . . . ]

A prime property at the Victory [Base] Complex is Al Faw palace, whose construction became Saddam's personal architectural hobby. He made more than 400 changes to the plans, according to the history of the complex.

"It has gorgeous ceilings and chandeliers, but we use it like a regular office building albeit with a lot more marble," [former U.S. military historian in Iraq Col. Les] Melnyk said.

Saddam's most dramatic – and, as it turns out, most damaging – alteration grew from paranoia. Flying over the building, he thought he saw a cross woven into the design and suspected the Yugoslav architects did it on purpose.

"He assumed, being the paranoid man ... that he was, that they were trying to insert a Christian symbol into his country. So he made the decision on the spot to double the size of the palace," Melnyk said.

The result of the hasty remake is that the back half of the palace is unstable, Melnyk said. Cracks are showing, chunks of the walls are falling off, and the palace may cease to be inhabitable. Meanwhile, the staircases are chipped and nicked after years of U.S. troops' weapons accidentally banging into them.

The troops do not mind climbing three floors just to use the massive bathroom – 12 sinks in one room alone. The bidets are used to store toilet paper.

The U.S. military has made many improvements to the palaces it has occupied – smoke detectors, new wiring, upgraded plumbing. Interiors have become cubicled office space and machines clean the floors at Al Faw.

The security agreement governing the withdrawal, however, does not require the U.S. to fix any damage it has caused to these buildings.

It does not help that the palaces were not always built very well. In the back of Al Faw, the paint looks haphazardly applied to the plaster ceiling moldings, the chandeliers in the hallway do not line up and the floor tiles are uneven.

Saddam was thinking "Versailles," but the materials he bought were more half-price sale at Home Depot. At Al Faw the banisters are gypsum, not marble. The Arabic script on the walls looks like gold but it is really brass.

It's difficult to believe that this reporter toured Al-Faw Palace and didn't notice The Fish.

Let's hope that The Fish continue to entertain - and be fed by - distinguished visitors and, more importantly, their hard-working entourages.

Fish Haiku #15

Giant sacred carp

Living in the lakes protect

Iraq's future hopes.