"Al-Mansour" and "Basra Breeze". Saddam Hussein's yacht bears witness to the "extravagance" of the former regime in Iraq
Twenty years after his fall in the US invasion, Saddam Hussein's yacht remains the perfect witness to former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's apparent extravagance, with one floating rusty in the middle of the river, while the other is now open to visitors.
In the southernmost city of Basra, only about 500 meters separate the Mansour, Saddam's yacht, which was hit by U.S. airstrikes in 2003, and the Basra Breeze, which was placed at the disposal of a naval studies center.
The "breeze of Basra," which Saddam could never sail, anchors on one of the piers of the Shatt al-Arab, the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The yacht has been open to visitors since January, three days a week.
Sajjad Kazim, a professor at the Marine Science Center at the University of Basra, said, "Everyone who visited the presidential yacht was stunned by the opulence of the former regime."
Time stopped on board this boat. In a small room, old telephones are still on a large desk. In the Presidential Suite, a huge shaded bed and elegant lamps that align the bed, old-fashioned sofas and a large dressing table. Bathrooms are fitted with gold sinks.
This is not surprising: Saddam Hussein, who ruled Iraq from 1979 to 2003, was known for his outrageous extravagance.
The 82-metre yacht, built in Denmark and handed over to Saddam in 1981, can accommodate up to 30 passengers and a crew of 35.
The yacht has 13 rooms, three meeting rooms, and a helipad. It also has a secret passage leading to a submarine, which allows escape in the event of danger, as recorded on an information board.
"At a time when the Iraqi people were living through the horrors of war because of Saddam and the suffocating economic blockade, Saddam owned such a yacht," says Kazem, 48.
Fearing reprisals during the Iran-Iraq war in the eighties, Saddam, who did not use the yacht, moved the yacht before ending up in Jordan, Kadhim recalls.
In 2008, the boat, which was anchored in Nice, was at the center of a legal battle, with Iraqi authorities claiming ownership after it was offered for sale for $35 million by a company based in the Cayman Islands.
University professor Abbas al-Maliki, who came to visit the yacht, said: "What I liked were the old things, such as fax and old phones, which took me back to before the Internet."
"I wish the former regime had taken care of these matters in order to serve the people and not to serve their personal interests."
The Mansour yacht is still half sunk with its rusty hull in the Shatt al-Arab River in central Basra.
The yacht, 120 meters long and weighing more than 7,1983 tons, was built in Finland and delivered to Iraq in 32, according to the website of its Danish designer Knud E. Hansen. It has a capacity of 65 passengers and a crew of <> people.
The yacht was anchored in the waters of the Gulf, and before the U.S. invasion, Saddam moved the yacht to the waters of the Shatt al-Arab "to protect it from U.S. aircraft strikes," but the plan "failed," explains naval engineer Ali Mohammed, who works on the Basra Naseem yacht.
In March 2003, international coalition aircraft bombed Mansour's yacht.
Qahtan al-Obeid, director of the Basra Antiquities and Heritage Inspectorate, explained to AFP that the yacht "was bombed more than once over a period of more than one day... He had several strikes, I think he was bombed three times at different times but he didn't sink."
In photographs taken by AFP in 2003, al-Mansour is still floating on the water, with the upper floors burned by airstrikes. In June 2003, the yacht began tilting to one side.
Al-Obeid says the yacht began to capsize "because of the theft of pumps in the engine rooms. There are openings through which water enters. Water leaked into the engine chambers causing it to overturn."