US empties biggest Iraq base

The US military is vacating Saddam Hussein`s ornate palaces at its war headquarters in Baghdad and will turn the property over to Iraq next month.

Last Updated: Nov 08, 2011, 00:04 AM IST

Baghdad: The US military is vacating Saddam Hussein`s ornate palaces at its war headquarters in Baghdad and will turn the property over to Iraq next month, but Saddam`s prison toilet is leaving with the Americans.

The stainless steel commode and a reinforced steel door have been removed from the cell where the dictator spent two years before his 2006 execution and is destined for a military police museum in the United States.

"We`re not taking anything that the Iraqis had. We are only taking stuff that we put in, we utilised, and when we didn`t need it any more, we took it home," Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Brooks, a US military historian, said on a tour of the site on Monday.
The villa where American troops built a maximum-security jail for Saddam and his henchman Chemical Ali sits on a US complex near Baghdad`s airport known as Victory Base, which is scheduled to be handed over to Iraq`s government in December as US forces withdraw completely by year`s end.

Surrounded by 42 km (27 miles) of blast walls and razor wire, Victory, the largest of the 505 bases the US military once operated in Iraq, housed over 40,000 soldiers and up to 25,000 workers. Only 4,000 troops remain there.

From a peak of around 170,000, Washington has 31,000 troops remaining in Iraq, at 12 bases. President Barack Obama`s October 21 announcement that all the remaining forces would leave by year-end kicked the withdrawal into high gear.

The palaces that once housed the US war command, modeled on France`s Versailles and scattered around a series of interconnected, man-made lakes, are being emptied save for Saddam`s French provincial furniture.

The Burger King, Subway and other iconic American restaurants that catered to hundreds of thousands of US soldiers at the dusty complex are closed.

At the faux-elegant al-Faw Palace, where marble floors and walls are trimmed with cheap gypsum fashioned to look like pricey stone, the stadium-tiered war ops room where orders were handed out is dark and empty of phones and computers.

General Lloyd Austin vacated the US commander`s palace in September to move to the US Embassy on the banks of the Tigris.

US officials said they are leaving behind improvements valued at more than USD 100 million on Victory base, including buildings, water tanks, generators and other equipment.

Bureau Report