Al-Mansur: Saddam Hussein’s once luxurious yacht now an attraction and fisherman’s hangout

Half-submerged in a river in southern Iraq, the rusting carcass of Saddam Hussein’s once-luxurious yacht remains a reminder of the man who ruled the country with an iron fist for decades. Iraqbefore toppling over and meeting a gruesome death.

The 121-meter-long al-Mansur, once a symbol of Saddam’s power and wealth, is now an attraction for passers-by and a hangout for local fishermen who climb it for picnics or tea.

AP Photo/Nabil al-Jurani

“When the former president had it, no one could go near it,” says Hussain Sabahi, a local fisherman who ends his day sipping tea on the steel carcass. “I can’t believe that it once belonged to Saddam and today I’m walking around on it,” he says.

A few weeks before the invasion of Iraq by the Americans and their allies, the Al-Mansour was docked in the Gulf. However, Saddam asked for it to be transferred to the Saat al-Arab “to protect it from the bombing of American aircraft,” explains the ship’s engineer, Ali Mohammed.

“It turned out to be a complete failure,” he adds.

Al-Mansur: Saddam Hussein's once luxurious yacht now an attraction and fisherman's hangout-2
Source: EPA

In the very first days of the Iraq war, which began exactly twenty years ago, Al Mansour was bombed by British forces.

It remained, however, on the surface of the river, only to be targeted again by locals who looted everything of value that could be transported, from furniture and chandeliers to steel parts of its frame.

And then, on June 12, 2003, after two months of hard work, the luxury barge that could accommodate 200 guests, half sank in Basra’s Saat al-Arab river.

According to Basra’s former head of cultural heritage, Qatan al-Obeid, the yacht had been bombed for days. “It was bombed at least three times, but it never sank,” he says.

Al-Mansur: Saddam Hussein's once luxurious yacht now an attraction and fisherman's hangout-3
Source: EPA

On the contrary, the yacht began to take on water and therefore tilt, “when its engines were stolen. This caused cracks and as a result it began to seep and tilt,” says Obeid.

It was one of three yachts owned by Saddam, one of which has been converted into a hotel, also in Basra.

Al-Mansur: Saddam Hussein's once luxurious yacht now an attraction and fisherman's hangout-4
Source: EPA

The governments that passed through Iraq did not decide to allocate funds for the removal of the semi-submerged vessel. However, not a few Iraqis prefer it there.

“This yacht is like a precious gem, like a rare masterpiece of art to keep at home. We are sorry for his condition,” says Zahi Musa, a captain in the Iraqi Ministry of Transport.

Al-Mansur: Saddam Hussein's once luxurious yacht now an attraction and fisherman's hangout-5
Source: EPA

In a country torn apart by decades of war, authorities have launched a campaign to remove the wrecks of smaller boats that have sunk in the Shatt al-Arab.

But Al-Mansour was to remain there, a reminder of a bygone era. “It was a very large ship that had to be dismantled and then moved away, a difficult and costly process,” Obeid concludes.

According to estimates by US officials, the fortune of Saddam and his family amounted in 2003 to more than 40 billion dollars in ill-gotten gains.

Source: CNN/AFP

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