A flashback for this Wednesday, from a trip I took to Iraq in 2015. Somehwere I think I still have a couple of posts written at the time that still haven’t been published.
The Peshmerga guards ask if we would like some tea. I don’t drink hot drinks, but I know it would be culturally insensitive to refuse such an offer.
So I sit with a glass of hot tea, very sweet the way Iraqis like it, and look out over the valley, a view worthy of a dictator.
Saddam Hussein’s northern palace has been pretty much destroyed. Another palace we can see from this mountaintop looks as if it is in better shape – but it isn’t open to the public, I don’t think. Apparently this one is, partially, to anyone willing to make the trek to the top. I doubt tea is offered to every visitor, but I could be wrong. Iraqis are renowned for their hospitality.
I suspect it is an honor to have this posting, as isolated as the place is. The Peshmerga, I’m told, are here on a two week rotation. There is satellite TV and internet (it is the highest peak in the area so of course cell towers have been erected). I doubt there are many visitors. It’s a long drive and the walk would be even longer. I suspect most people in the area would prefer to forget Saddam, and there aren’t many tourists, given that there is a civil war in the area.
We didn’t get to see the part of the palace the Peshmerga use as their barracks. I imagine it is pretty primitive. American bombs didn’t leave much standing here. What is open to the public (and the elements) are Saddam’s bedrooms and the roof. The view was spectacular. He probably didn’t share it with too many people. I wonder if he enjoyed it for the sheer beauty of it, or more because he could see it and no-one else was allowed to.
This was probably once a very opulent place, if what I have read about dictators in general and Saddam in particular are true. No evidence of that now though – the place has been stripped. There might be a few square centimetres of marble left on the stairs leading to the roof, and that is about it. It’s not that large, but then again the man did have 82 palaces scattered around the country. He probably didn’t spend all that much time here. This certainly wasn’t his primary residence, more of an overgrown cottage.
The palace I’m sure was built as a slap in the face to the Kurdish people who are the majority in this part of northern Iraq. Saddam, among his other crimes, had ordered the use of chemical weaponry against his Kurdish subjects, killing thousands. His palace on the mountaintop stood as a reminder of his brutality.
Which means it must be especially sweet for members of the Peshmerga, the Kurdish militia, to have this posting. Saddam was a brutal dictator, but they have the last laugh. The conflict with ISIS continues, but in this location they are reminded that the Kurds have been victorious in the past.
Outliving your enemy is one of the finest forms of revenge.