Re: Fwd: Hussein's Obsession: An Empire of Mosques

From: Grant Callaghan (
Date: Sun 15 Dec 2002 - 18:45:08 GMT

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    As theater, Saddam raqs, dude. That whole mosque says "I raq!" The question we ask is "What happens once the curtain comes down?"


    >Date: Sun, 15 Dec 2002 12:59:17 -0500
    >Hussein's Obsession: An Empire of Mosques
    >BAGHDAD, Iraq, Dec. 14 For a glimpse into Saddam Hussein's cast of mind
    >as he weighs the threat of another war with the United States, there are
    >few more revealing places to look than the Mother of All Battles Mosque, a
    >vast, newly constructed edifice of gleaming white limestone and blue mosaic
    >that the Iraqi leader oversaw from blueprint to completion on Baghdad's
    >western outskirts.
    >First, the minarets.
    >The outer four, each 140 feet high, were built to resemble the barrels of
    >Kalashnikov rifles, pointing skyward. The inner four, each 120 feet high,
    >look like the Scud missiles that Iraq fired at Israel in 1991 during the
    >Mother of All Battles, known to Americans as the Persian Gulf war. At their
    >peak, these inner minarets are decorated with red, white and black Iraqi
    >There is more.
    >Inside a special sanctum, treated by the mosque's custodian with the
    >reverence due a holy of holies, there are 650 pages of the Koran written,
    >it is said, in Mr. Hussein's blood. As the official legend has it, "Mr.
    >President" donated 28 liters of his blood about 50 pints over two
    >years, and a famous calligrapher, Abas al-Baghdadi, mixed it with ink and
    >preservatives to produce the handsome writing now laid out page by page in
    >glass-walled display cases.
    >A reflecting pool that encircles the mosque is shaped like the map of the
    >Arab world. At the far end, a blue mosaic plinth sits like an island in the
    >clear water. The plinth is a reproduction of Mr. Hussein's thumbprint, and
    >atop is a stylized reproduction, in gold, of his Arabic initials. In this,
    >as in all else, no expense has been spared. Officials put the cost of the
    >mosque, in a country where many families live in abject poverty on $10 or
    >$15 a month, at $7.5 million.
    >Mosque-building on a scale, Iraqi officials say, that no Arab leader has
    >undertaken since the days of the great Abbasid caliphs who ruled the Arab
    >world from Baghdad until the middle of the 13th century has become Mr.
    >Hussein's grand obsession. He has set out to make Baghdad the undisputed
    >center of Islamic architecture, as it was under the Abbasids, and the only
    >thing that has stopped him from building even bigger, the officials say, is
    >a concern not to outstrip the Islamic holy places in Mecca, in Saudi
    >A few miles from the Mother of All Battles Mosque, two others are rising
    >that will dwarf it. One five times the size, with many similar features in
    >celebration of Mr. Hussein, is to be known as the Mosque of Saddam the
    >Great. It is visible in skeleton form on the bulldozed plain that used to
    >be Baghdad's airport, and is due to be completed in 2015. A mile or two
    >beyond, in a gigantic cluster of domes that seem borrowed from the design
    >book for Las Vegas, is the Al-Rahman Mosque, meaning "the most merciful,"
    >heading for completion in 2004.
    >Part of the message the Iraqi leader is sending with his mosque-building is
    >that he, Saddam Hussein, is the natural leader of an Arab world yearning
    >for past glories under the banner of Islam that fluttered atop the Arab
    >armies that conquered much of the ancient world after the death of the
    >prophet Muhammad in 632. But the lesson encoded in the Mother of All
    >Battles Mosque, or Umm al-Mahare, as it is called in Arabic, seems to be
    >much narrower, and aimed like its Kalashnikov-and-Scud minarets at a more
    >selected audience: the United States.
    >With United Nations weapons inspectors now heading out every morning with
    >powers to search the secret laboratories and weapons-making plants that
    >were at the heart of Mr. Hussein's ambitions to turn Iraq into the Arab
    >superpower, the Iraqi leader has had to do something that he says outright,
    >in almost every speech, he abhors having had to do: bow down before the
    >power of the outside world, led by the United States. On several occasions
    >recently, the Iraqi leader has spoken of his concern that Iraqis meaning
    >himself, as the country's absolute ruler not be seen to be "weaklings"
    >and "cowards."
    >But along with this, there has been another message, and it is the one
    >written in stone and marble at the Mother of All Battles Mosque: That
    >Iraqis are natural warriors, that they search ceaselessly for what Mr.
    >Hussein called last week "the great meanings inside themselves," and that
    >they are like coiled springs waiting for the moment of "anger and revolt"
    >when they can avenge the wrongs done them by their enemies. In short, that
    >they are ready for war, as Mr. Hussein said at a cabinet meeting this week,
    >when he told his generals "that your heads will remain high with honor, God
    >willing, and your enemy will be defeated."
    >To Americans, and to many Arabs, it might seem chimerical that Mr. Hussein
    >could present himself as a man who has brought Iraq glory in war.
    >Iraq's eight-year war with Iran in the 1980's ended in a battlefield
    >stalemate, no ground gained, with at least 500,000 Iraqis, and as many
    >Iranians, dead. The Persian Gulf war, which was triggered by Mr. Hussein's
    >1990 invasion of Kuwait, ended after six weeks of American bombing and less
    >than 72 hours of land warfare, and the abiding image, for Americans, of
    >Iraqi soldiers scrambling out of desert bunkers with their hands raised in
    >surrender to American troops.
    >But at the Mother of All Battles Mosque, the inescapable message is that
    >Mr. Hussein wants Iraqis to think of the battle for Kuwait as a glorious
    >chapter in their history, one they should be ready to re-live if America
    >once again chooses to launch its missiles and bombs and tanks at Iraq. Seen
    >through this perspective, the gulf war was a victory, not a defeat, for
    >Iraq, and its people should welcome a new chance to follow Mr. Hussein if
    >the time comes to land a new punch on America's nose.
    >Many who know Iraq, and the United States, and can make even a layman's
    >estimate of their relative military strengths, would regard this as
    >illusionism of a piece with Iraq's persistence in holding onto Kuwait in
    >1990 under American threats, and boasting of certain victory, until the
    >denouement. What is harder to say, given the closed nature of Iraq under
    >Mr. Hussein, is whether it is an illusionism like Winston Churchill's in
    >1940, baying at the Nazi armies in France while knowing that Britain's land
    >forces were in no shape to repel an invasion, or whether it is something
    >much grimmer for Iraq, the failure of a leader who lives in a tightly
    >protected seclusion to grasp the realities that press in keenly on others.
    >Although Mr. Hussein is said to have visited the mosque frequently during
    >its construction, lending himself to the project as a kind of
    >architect-in-chief, in the way that Mao in China and Kim Il Sung in North
    >Korea used to do with every hospital and bridge and dam, officials at the
    >mosque say that they have not seen him there since before the mosque opened
    >last year on April 28, Mr. Hussein's birthday. The absence of "Mr.
    >President" on the day of the opening was a striking lacuna they attribute
    >to the heavy demands on the Iraqi leader's time. "Perhaps he was too busy,"
    >they say.
    >But the imam at the mosque, the chief cleric, is pleased to tell reporters
    >what he believes Mr. Hussein had in mind with the mosque. What he says
    >comes as no surprise.
    >Was the mosque a symbol of Iraq's defeat of America in the gulf war, he was
    >"Exactly, you have divined it well," said Sheik Thahir Ibrahim al-Shammari,
    >his face shining with a look of something like beatitude.
    >But was this not stretching a point a little, he was asked, given the fact
    >that Iraqi troops fled the battlefield in Kuwait so fast.
    >The imam smiled. He had heard the questions before, and fielding them was
    >to him about as easy as batting away a child's softball pitches.
    >"Well," he said, coming back at his questioner with the cleric's equivalent
    >of a sucker punch, "I am not, of course, a military man. I am not a man to
    >speak of battles, won or lost. But the building of this mosque, and other
    >mosques, what is that if not a victory? The resistance Iraqis have shown to
    >12 years of American aggression, what is that if not a victory? No, what
    >you see here is decidedly a monument to victory, define that as you will."
    >One thing the mosque's keepers appear to have learned from meeting
    >reporters is that the architectural flourishes the Kalashnikov minarets
    >and the Scud-like towers beside them may be a little over the top for the
    >Western taste. Accordingly, the presentation has changed.
    >Where once visitors were told what seems obvious how the elegant
    >cylinders of the inner minarets slim to an aerodynamic peak, like a
    >ballistic missile tapering at the nose cone they are now assured that no
    >such references were ever in the architects' minds.
    >But there is no such reticence about the features that memorialize Mr.
    >Hussein. Sheik Shammari was happy to run through the details:
    >The outer minarets 43 meters in height, for the 43 days of American bombing
    >at the start of the gulf war. Then inner minarets, 37 meters in height, for
    >the year 1937; numbering 4, for the fourth month, April; and 28 water jets
    >in the pool beneath the minarets, for the 28th day all in all, the
    >37-4-28, for April 28, 1937, Mr. Hussein's birthday.
    >The mosque is one of the few buildings in Iraq where there is no portrait
    >of Mr. Hussein. But more striking than that, there is no memorial, within
    >the mosque, for the 100,000 Iraqis the government says died from American
    >bombing during the gulf war. Few independent experts who have studied the
    >1991 bombing campaign consider the figure remotely credible, but, in any
    >case, the war's Iraqi victims go unheralded.
    >Outside, in the mosque's spacious grounds, there is a memorial to the dead
    >of the Iran-Iraq war, but that, too, seems more a paean to victory than an
    >acknowledgment of suffering. Alongside heroic, Soviet-style figures of
    >ordinary men, women and children carved into the white limestone, there is
    >a quotation from Mr. Hussein's message on the occasion of the cease-fire
    >with Iran in August 1988, describing the moment as "a great day, a day of
    >The seeming lack of a human dimension was underscored on Friday, the Muslim
    >day of prayer, by the fact that the mosque was all but deserted at the
    >height of the day, apparently because ordinary Iraqis prefer to gather in
    >large numbers at the lovely old mosques in the center of Baghdad.
    >Sheik Shammari said that 2,500 people had attended the noonday prayers, at
    >which he had called for "God's mercy" on Palestinian suicide bombers a
    >favorite topic of Mr. Hussein, who has promised cash payments of $25,000 to
    >the family of every Palestinian blowing up himself, and Israelis. But
    >mainly, he said, he had spoken of the certainty of Iraq's victory over the
    >United States.
    >"I told them, `Our enemy has very advanced weapons, and in this they are
    >stronger than we are,' " he said. "But I also said, `But we also have
    >weapons that they do not have. We have our faith, Islam, and we have our
    >great leader-president, Saddam Hussein. These are weapons far stronger than
    >anything our enemy has.' "
    >Incongruously, for a cleric of a mosque that seems political to the peak of
    >its dome, the sheik said he preferred not to speak of politics.
    >But then he thought it over, and could not resist.
    >There was a president, he said, without mentioning any country, who was
    >"steeped in the blood" of Iraqis, and who had a "crazy, paranoid" vision of
    >the world that was driving him on to war, regardless of the sufferings it
    >would bring.
    >"If we want to be merciful, we would call him a Satan," he said. "He has
    >absolutely no sense of reality, none at all."
    >He was speaking of President Bush.
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