Carles Grau Sivera |
Baghdad, Mar 17 (EFE) during the invasion and, there, the dictator also remained captive until his execution. But now, for ironies of life or “poetic justice”, it is the American University of Baghdad.
“There is a kind of poetic justice, really, between what Saddam Hussein was doing and what we are doing now, which is an educational institution for the benefit of the entire country,” the president of this new university, the American, told EFE. Michael Mulnix, from his office, whose ceiling is covered with tiles decorated with the dictator’s initials.
Saddam Hussein did not spend much time in this residence, also known as the Water Palace, but the tyrant’s megalomania still lives on in the inscriptions of his poems and his name, scattered on the walls and ceilings that the American University has wanted to preserve.
A palace with the recent history of Iraq
The compound was shelled by US forces during the 2003 invasion, and the troops settled there, turning the site into the Camp Victory base, where Saddam was transferred after being captured that same year.
Even some of the sessions of his trial for crimes against humanity were held in these palaces, which he himself ordered to be built to commemorate the recovery of the Al Faw peninsula after eight years of war with Iran.
But since the withdrawal of US troops in 2011, the compound remained completely abandoned until, in 2017, an Iraqi businessman agreed with the government to begin work to convert Saddam’s offices and classrooms into classrooms.
“All these tiles were destroyed, hanging, there were birds fluttering through the windows, snakes on the ground, foxes… It was simply abandoned,” recalls Mulnix about the state in which a large part of the complex’s palaces were, which after the withdrawal of US troops were left at the mercy of Baghdad’s flora and fauna.
Preserving Saddam’s footprint
The board and the Iraqi founders of the institution opted to renovate the palaces and return them to their original state after holding “serious talks” about the impact that turning a Saddam Hussein palace into an American university could generate, something that was harshly criticized in a start.
“It was an interesting discussion, as to whether we should go in here and remove everything related to Saddam Hussein (…) but ultimately we decided no, this is a historical place, these things happened,” says Mulnix.
The jewel in the crown of the university campus is the main palace, which was the personal residence of the dictator, surrounded by waters through which the popularly known as “Saddam sea bass”, a fish cultivated and created by the autocrat, swims.
Access to the main palace is currently restricted due to renovation works that are still going on outside, but also inside, where remains of the dictator’s office and his bedrooms remain.
The president of the university estimates that so far the renovation of the complex has cost about 300 million dollars.
Mulnix describes how the first time he entered the building it was “incredibly inspiring”, while another mansion located a few kilometers away houses the cell where Saddam Hussein was held captive until his execution.
Going in there “gives a very strange feeling,” he says.
A shielded campus
Accessing the campus is not an easy task. You have to pass numerous security controls, including one for dogs specialized in detecting explosives and weapons.
Some students consulted by EFE assure that going to class is similar to going to an airport or crossing a border.
“Here there are security problems. We hope that one day Iraq will stabilize to the point where the doors are open and people go in and out (…) There are quite strict security measures, we don’t want anyone… Nothing bad to happen to anyone”, asserts Mulnix.
Once inside the compound, several buses transport the university students to the center of the campus, described by the president as “a city within a city”, where there are tennis courts, supermarkets, canteens, and there are plans to establish clothing stores and cinemas.