Saddam’s Extravagant Lifestyle –
To See it with Your Own Eyes

Commentary: Some Notes About Iraq, the Iraqis and the Troops

By Jim Garamone, AFPS

BAGHDAD, Iraq May 2, 2003 – Seeing television, newspaper and magazine images of Saddam’s palaces is one thing. Seeing them in real life is something else.

You can’t get a feel for the scale of these edifices any other way.

The Abu Gharib palace, where the Coalition Land Forces Command is located, is called the Water Palace in some circles. Saddam built this massive pleasure dome in the midst of a lake. Just the foyer of the building would easily "house" my house, with room to spare. Whole mountains somewhere are probably at sea level because of the amount of marble in this one structure.

Another palace near the airport is built on its own man- made mountain. The surrounding area has a man-made lake, surrounded by huge boathouses and houses. These pleasure palaces are surrounded by towers where machine-gun wielding guards perched during Saddam’s regime.

Other people have told me about palaces in Basra and Tikrit.

Every country needs a showplace. But how many showcases does Iraq need? The palaces are the most visible example of Saddam’s disregard for the Iraqi people.


BASRA, Iraq, April 30, 2003 – A British medic from Yorkshire is proud of the work his ambulance crew has done in this southern Iraqi city, but wishes his "lads" would drive more carefully.

The medic, who didn’t want his name used, said that most of the work he’s been getting from coalition forces has been as a result of traffic accidents. "We guarantee getting you to hospital in less than a hour," he said. "We haven’t lost anyone yet."

He said that under Saddam, health care was used as a weapon. "If you were the favored, you got world-class health care and the best drugs. If you weren’t, you got next to nothing."

He said he tried to save the life of an Iraqi boy who had a brain cyst. It had gone untreated because "he came from the wrong side of town" and the boy died.

He said his unit treats and transports all people – coalition and Iraqi. "You can learn more here in a month than you would in a year at home – burns, amputations, gunshot wounds – you just don’t see that in Yorkshire."


BAGHDAD, Iraq, May 3, 2003 – One observation soldiers make continually around here is, "I’ve got kids that age."

Kids line the streets as soldiers drive past and wave and call to them. U.S. civil affairs personnel meet these kids every day, and they are trying to make their lives a little bit easier.

"Some of these kids are so young, they have no idea why this is happening," said Army Capt. Richard Cote, who commands Direct Support Team 2 with the 422nd Civil Affairs Battalion out of Fort Bragg, N.C. "They have no responsibility for this mess, and you really want to help them."

Spc. Raymond Weldon, another member of the team, described a father bringing forth young girl. She had been playing in a mound of garbage. "She had a huge gash in her foot," Weldon said. "We cleaned her up and got her to a clinic. But she needed shoes. We’ve noticed many children in the same situation."

The people the civil affairs team deals with are not the fortunate members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party. "These people are poor and they need a hand up," Cote said.


BAGHDAD, Iraq, May 3, 2003 – Tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles are fearsome weapons.

Army officials are finding that just the sight of these vehicles is enough to scare many Iraqis. "You really can’t go into a neighborhood riding in an Abrams tank and expect the people there to understand you are there to help," said Army Maj. J.D. Keith, the executive officer of the 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry, 3rd Infantry Division.

The tracked-vehicles also destroy the streets and curbs by simply running over them.

He said that Humvees "work best in this situation. They are less threatening and the soldiers are more accessible to the population. You really can’t do peacekeeping from the back of a tank."