Saddam now seen as 'Father of Martyrs' by visitors to his grave

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 7, 2008 

AWJA, Iraq — In the hometown of Saddam Hussein, they still call the late dictator The President. Inside a hall that once held an office Saddam used once or twice a year lies his tomb. A sheet embroidered with gold covers the burial site: "There is no God but God and Mohammed is his messenger."

The old flag of Iraq, with three stars and "God is great," written in Saddam's handwriting, covers the head of the gravesite. The room is now a shrine to the man hated by many but also loved. Some love him only because life has become worse since he was deposed, they say. Others even think of him as an Arab martyr who died for his country.

On his old desk a small television screen flashes pictures of Saddam — Saddam smoking a cigar, Saddam speaking with dignitaries, Saddam shooting a weapon, Saddam smiling and Saddam on trial. At the end of the slideshow a verse of Quran rings out and the show begins again.

Poetry about the late dictator adorns the room.

Behind the desk are pictures of the shoes he wore the day he was hung. Now the execution is considered a day of infamy likened to a lynching, at the hands of the Shiite-led government.

Saddam was hung as he recited the Islamic creed and other men chanted "Muqtada," the name of the firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr.

Here at Saddam's gravesite men slip off their shoes in a show of respect and walk into the hall of Saddam. They walk to the tomb, hold up their hands and pray. Then they take pictures next to his grave to mark the occasion.

The room is quiet save the clicking of cell phone cameras. The curtains are woven with the words, "The Hall of Martyrs," and a guestbook is signed by hundreds, with little notes to the man who once ruled here with fear and intimidation.

"God rest your soul, father of martyrs and a crown on the heads of Iraqis always," one says.

"Visitor of the grave of the Sheikh of the Mujahedeen — the martyr of the Arab Nation," another reads.

Falah Hassan al Neda, 35, the son of the head of Saddam's tribe, stands near the tomb.

"When I come here, it is like I'm coming to the grave of my father," he said. "Put aside the political mistakes ... he was our father, he was generous."

The site is maintained by volunteers from the tribe who also welcome visitors and oversee the hall.

"The people who come here loved Saddam," one of the tribal members said. "They respect this place."

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McClatchy Newspapers 2008

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