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Savidge: Opulence amid destruction

CNN correspondent Martin Savidge
CNN correspondent Martin Savidge

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U.S. Marines try to destroy a statue of Saddam Hussein near a presidential palace in Baghdad. CNN's Martin Savidge reports. (April 10)
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U.S. Marines faced resistance on the campus of Baghdad University just miles from where Iraqis were celebrating. CNN's Martin Savidge reports (April 10)
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- CNN correspondent Martin Savidge is no longer embedded with 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, and is moving about Baghdad. Thursday morning, he spoke to CNN anchor Carol Costello about the scene in the Iraqi capital.

SAVIDGE: We're standing right in the heart of downtown Baghdad where you saw that very dramatic scene yesterday when the statue came down of Saddam Hussein.

We left the 1st Battalion of the 7th Marines this morning. They were kind enough to give us an escort here to where we are, and we said our good-byes.

The night before, though, we did do a tour of the region that the battalion now controls, and part of that was a presidential palace. This was a palace that sits right on the banks of the Tigris River. It is a phenomenal view that Saddam Hussein or his family members had.

The palace itself had been hit by one of those bunker-busting bombs, the JDAM. It had done a tremendous amount of damage through the center of the palace, but even so, the opulence, the magnificence, the wealth of that particular building was still very, very obvious. Room after room was filled with what looked to be very rich, expensive furniture. There were all sorts of expensive carpet still on the floor. Some of them appeared to have been rolled up as if they were planning to move them. Crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceilings, a beautiful swimming pool in the back.

What struck you most is just the contrast between how opulent this particular palace was compared to the lifestyles and the homes that we have seen of regular Iraqis on our way all the way up here to Baghdad.

It had taken a severe hit, but much of the wealth was still very much in place.

And then after that, we paid another visit, and that was to the home of former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz. His home had a different look to it. It looked as if someone was preparing to go on a long vacation.

In some of the rooms, there were blankets or sheets that had been placed over the furniture; other items had been carefully covered. It looked as if there had been a hasty packing that had been done, and it had the appearance that whoever had put all those blankets and sheets down thought they were coming back, which now seems highly unlikely, at least for Tariq Aziz. I doubt if he will be returning at this point.

COSTELLO: Definitely. I wanted to ask you more about that Iraqi regime. It seems odd that everybody seems to be missing -- Saddam Hussein, his two sons, Tariq Aziz, the vice president. It's strange that they're all missing at the same time.

SAVIDGE: I don't know if it's strange, or if they all finally figured out at the same time and got the same e-mail, saying "I think now it is wise for us to leave."

One of the lighter stories was the information minister, who became quite a fixture, I think, with his daily reports of where the U.S. military was or was not. Yesterday, he vanished from the scene. He was not to be seen anymore on the airwaves, no longer was he denying that there were no military troops on the part of the United States here in Baghdad. Inquiries were made as to where he was, and according to his office yesterday he decided to take the day off.

COSTELLO: About this statue that they tried to bring down, are they still trying that, do you know?

SAVIDGE: They are, yes. I mean, you may have seen that scene we had earlier live on CNN. It was a statue of Saddam Hussein next to a bridge. It blew up, but it didn't come down. ... It was certainly an interesting scene there. Saddam Hussein is still standing but not fully intact.

I think the plan after that -- they originally tried to drag it down with a tank. That hadn't worked. So they blew him up, and I guess they'll try to drag him down or blow him up again, I'm not sure.

EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN's policy is to not report information that puts operational security at risk.


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