From: Grant Callaghan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Sun 15 Dec 2002 - 18:45:08 GMT
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
>By JOHN F. BURNS
>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
>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"
>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,"
>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
>"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
>"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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This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
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For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)
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