That is the basic warning on the red triangular signs. Or so I was told – I can’t read Arabic. But it seemed to be a sensible precaution. If I was a dictator I would probably plant the odd land mine around my palace too. And somehow removing those mines hasn’t been a priority for the new government.
The road to the palace is perhaps the most winding one you will ever experience. Seems like there is a switchback every 100 feet as you climb the 8,000 foot hill. I’m sure it could have been better engineered, but the idea was security not good engineering. Nobody was going to sneak up on Saddam Hussein. There were guardhouses and checkpoints all along the road as well – you can see the rubble.
The palace is in ruins now of course, so no-one has bothered to maintain the road. There are some potholes capable of swallowing an entire car, impressive even by Canadian standards (and we are known for our big potholes).
Saddam of course never had to deal with all the twists and turns of the road. I imagine his chauffeur did though. After all, I can’t see Saddam walking the 100 metres between the helicopter pad and the mansion. That would not be in keeping with the personality that comes with being a dictator.
Arriving by chopper was the safest thing for Saddam. The majority of the people in this area of norther Iraq are Kurds, and there was no love lost between him and this minority group, especially not after he launched gas attacks on them that killed thousands.
John Wilkes Booth shouted “sic semper tyrannis” (thus always to tyrants) as he assassinated Abraham Lincoln, but Lincoln was no tyrant. Saddam on the other hand was no stranger to mass murder of his own people if it suited his whims. I suspect there are few in Iraq who mourned his passing. His trial was swift by western standards, but when you think of it, a longer trial would not have changed the outcome. There was never any doubt as to his guilt. Sic semper tyrannis.
The drive up the winding road takes a long time, as we swerve to avoid those potholes. There is time to enjoy the view, which I am sure Saddam did. In the end though, his view was not the one from this mountain aerie but the one from a hole where he cowered, waiting for justice. Sic transit gloria mundi. (So passes the glory of this world. I’m sorry, I’ll stop the Latin for today.)
Because this is the highest peak in the northern part of Iraq it has strategic and commercial communications value. The ruins of the palace (one of 82 palaces Saddam had scattered throughout the country) are home to cell phone transmission towers and satellite relay dishes. There is a small military detachment here still, just to make sure none of the tourists damage the equipment.
This is not a museum. There is no admission charge. There are no signs, no explanation of what you are seeing. But it is a part of history.