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Saddam's palace in Mosul looted, trashed

MOSUL, Iraq—A man with no running water in his house made off with two toilets Friday from Saddam Hussein's ornate presidential palace here.

"Now I can sit and (defecate) where that horrible tyrant used to sit and (defecate)," said Martin Farouk, 22, a printer. "I like the idea of that."

The Palace of the Lances was fully stripped and trashed by Friday afternoon as looters swept through Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city.

After Iraqi troops in Mosul surrendered Thursday night, small teams of U.S. and Kurdish forces moved in. The thieves weren't far behind, and one of their first targets was Saddam's elegant marble and sandstone palace, set amid a grove of juniper and olive trees overlooking the Tigris River.

"We're only doing this to express our anger after 25 years of Saddam," Farouk said as he nervously guarded his toilets (with gold-plated flush handles) from hundreds of other looters. "We're taking back OUR stuff. These things belong to all Iraqis."

Just two days earlier, hundreds of Special Republican Guards patrolled the palace. Anyone even approaching the gates risked being shot. Now the guards were gone, the gates were open and the looting was at a fever pitch.

Some people hauled away pieces of Saddam's furniture, while others carried off huge mahogany doors, aluminum window frames, pieces of oak banisters, marble tiles, even light bulbs and potted plants. One young man in a back garden was busily digging up small, ordinary shrubs and carting them away.

The very idea that they could even enter the palace grounds was exciting to many everyday Mosulis. One man said the palace had been so off-limits that he always cautioned his 8-year-old son not to point at it—or even turn his head to look at it—when they drove past.

"Just being here is like going to the moon," said Omar Nabil al Chaderchi, a surgeon. "It's something unthinkable to us."

Not everyone was happy about the freewheeling liberation of Saddam's luxuries. Where some saw legitimate payback, others saw barbarians at the gates.

"How stupid these people are, looting all these things," said Abdulhafel al Hafel, 33, a cosmetics dealer who had brought his two young sons to see the fabled palace. "This could be a wonderful tourist site, but these idiots are stripping it bare. It's not right. This wonderful palace now belongs to all Iraqis. It should not be ruined."


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.