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Soldiers put Iraq 'war trophies' on eBay

By Matt Smith
CNN

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Brian Cramer in the palace where he found a copy of the Koran

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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- A year after the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq, items touted as having come from Saddam's palaces have turned up for sale on the auction Web site eBay.

The seller of one secondhand rug lists the previous owner of the roughly 6-by-9-foot piece of carpet as ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Customers can also bid on silverware embossed with the Iraqi army's crest and a copy of the Koran, the Muslim holy book, which is purported to be from a Baghdad compound.

A spokesman for U.S. Central Command told CNN that U.S. troops should have been prohibited from bringing such items home from Iraq. But the men selling the items say they had no trouble bringing them back.

Spc. Adam Dearinger, who is asking a minimum of $850 for the rug, is among those who brought home war trophies with no problems.

"We didn't think we were going to be able to get them home, but they said we could take 10 items," Dearinger said.

He and other members of his unit at first took rugs from one of Saddam's many palaces to soften their quarters in a hangar at Baghdad International Airport, he said.

Dearinger, 21, was part of the 3rd Forward Support Battalion -- part of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, which led the advance on the Iraqi capital from the west.

"We went through about 15 or 20 different palaces," he said. In one, "There were 15 rugs there, and every one of us grabbed one and we took them."

Another Iraq war veteran, Brian Cramer, is asking $150 for a Koran he said he found in one Baghdad compound.

Cramer's unit, the 519th Military Police Battalion, followed the 3rd Infantry Division into the Iraqi capital as Saddam's government collapsed.

"We got up there to Baghdad International Airport, and then we went around -- the guy told us it was sort of palace hunting. We were looking for a place to stay," he said.

"I went in there and there was this room that was all blown up," he added. "I found this Koran and I found, like, a prayer robe -- that's what the Iraqis told me it was."

Cramer, who now lives in Pennsylvania, said he found two copies of the book in a section of the palace hit by a precision-guided bomb during the three-week invasion. He said he is saving the other copy for his 5-month-old son.

Both Cramer and Dearinger said the items they're now selling were declared and cleared by U.S. Customs upon their return home.

"They didn't say anything bad about taking the rugs home, or artifacts. They considered them war trophies," Dearinger said.

But Cmdr. Dan Gage, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said soldiers are not allowed to bring back "war trophies" -- only legally purchased souvenirs.

"Would this fall under that? I don't know," Gage said.

Dearinger said decisions about what was a legitimate souvenir were left up to individual commanders. But Gage said the regulations covering war trophies don't appear to leave much to an officer's discretion.

"How strictly that's enforced, I really couldn't speak for these units," he said.

Cramer, 24, was sent home in August after he re-tore a previously injured knee ligament while on patrol in Baghdad. He left the Army in October and is now studying to be a civilian police officer.

He said Customs classified his copies of the Koran "as a piece of history."

Dearinger is still in the Army, stationed at Fort Stewart, Georgia. He's also offering silverware from an Iraqi palace for sale.

He said he brought home numerous items from the palaces, including crystal and a teapot with a woman's figure inlaid in colored glass -- "different little things I thought would be nice to take home to the wife."


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