`Looks like he left in a pretty big hurry'

Palace: Packed bags, pressed suits, toothpaste and snapshots are among the items found in one of Saddam Hussein's homes by U.S. soldiers.

War In Iraq

April 11, 2003|By David Zucchino | David Zucchino,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

BAGHDAD, Iraq - For the record, Saddam Hussein seems to prefer Italian suits, double-breasted, by Canali and Luca's. He favors silk ties in solids or subtle patterns. He brushes with Colgate.

The dictator's clothes were hanging yesterday in the wardrobe of a luxurious upstairs bedroom in one of the dozens of compounds within a palace complex that stretches for two miles along the west bank of the Tigris River here. On a coffee table lay a wedding album containing photos of Hussein cutting a wedding cake, and on a bureau were snapshots of his sons, Odai and Qusai, as young boys.

Lt. Col. Philip deCamp, commander of a tank battalion that pounded its way onto the palace grounds Monday, rifled through the photos. He let out a soft whistle, amazed to be standing in the room where Hussein apparently had slept, perhaps very recently.

"Hey," deCamp said, pointing to three fully packed suitcases stacked in an anteroom. "It looks like he left in a pretty big hurry."

Yesterday was a day of revelations for the armored crews and commanders camped at the palace - one of dozens built by Hussein, who is known for changing his location almost nightly - as the battle for Baghdad wore on. They discovered a pen of emaciated lions, cheetahs and bears on the palace grounds, and a stroll through the rose gardens revealed the rotting corpses of Iraqi soldiers blown from sandy bunkers by the crews' tank rounds.

Scouts from the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division found a live sheep and fed it to a cheetah, which was joined in the feast by three lions.

Across the pen, a thin brown bear cub bound through the grass, dragging the entrails of a sheep provided earlier by the same scouts. The soldiers laughed in approval.

On the other side of the palace, an engineer battalion tore into the dry earth with backhoes to dig graves. Local Iraqis were recruited to ensure that the bodies were properly washed in the Muslim tradition and buried facing Mecca.

Civil affairs officers marked the locations with hand-held GPS systems and recorded the graves in notebooks. They had buried 15 by mid-afternoon, with scores more waiting in the gardens and in bunkers carved into the riverbank.

The palace was so large that deCamp had his men count the rooms and write the numbers on an index card: 142 offices, 64 bathrooms, 19 meeting rooms, 22 kitchens, countless bedrooms, a movie theater, five "huge ballrooms" and one "football-field-sized monster ballroom."

Even a cursory tour took hours, through mirrored hallways, across marble floors, beneath intricately tile-domed entryways.

In Hussein's bedroom, deCamp thumbed through a Newsweek magazine on a night stand. The cover story was "Inside America's new way of war," an examination of high-tech U.S. weaponry.

"Guess he was trying to get ready for us," said deCamp, who commands the 4th Battalion in the 3rd Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade - the brigade that took central Baghdad.

He spotted a black fedora, the type seen in a popular photo of Saddam firing a shotgun with one hand. DeCamp admired it in his hands.

In adjoining rooms were more family snapshots - Hussein kissing young boys and greeting women wearing head scarves. There were many photos of a dark-haired woman, at various ages, perhaps one of Hussein's wives or daughters.

In a closet were black and navy blue suits, tailored for a tall, barrel-chested man. Many were inside garment bags, tailors' tags on their sleeves. Dress shirts with French cuffs were hung neatly in long rows.

In a bathroom with brass fittings lay a toothbrush and toothpaste, a crimson bathrobe, a razor and a bar of Lux soap. Next door, in a study, were shelves of Arabic-language books, one containing a photo of Josef Stalin, reported to be Hussein's role model.

Down a spiral staircase, in rooms with gilded chairs and tables, were more photos of family gatherings, showing a young, black-mustachioed Hussein eating and laughing with smiling military officers. These were intimate, unscripted moments, different from the stylized images of the dictator that adorned all public buildings in Iraq.

U.S. intelligence officers concluded that Hussein had stayed in the compound recently. The property was secured, to be scoured by intelligence agencies.

DeCamp moved on to another ornate compound where, the night before, his battalion had discovered a hoard of luxury items. He dragged open a door. Inside were vast supplies of TV sets, Moet champagne, Russian vodka, imported American cigarettes, 150 Persian carpets, Parker pen sets, French wines and expensive Lladro figurines. These, according to the colonel, were gratuities handed out by Hussein's functionaries to favored members of the ruling Baath Party.

He offered no explanation for the cache of UNICEF children's clothes and toys.

David Zucchino writes for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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