Uday's Trove: To Remember or Forget?
By Robert F. Worth
BAGHDAD, Iraq, July 25 -- The inventory lists 193 canes, half of which slide open to become swords or guns. There is a strobe light, a fog machine and 4,002 bottles of wine and liquor, including a rare mid-1960's Cabernet Sauvignon worth $3,500. And there are family photographs of a sensitive-looking boy smiling alongside his father, the dictator.
Much of this collection, from the estate of Uday Hussein, will be auctioned off in the coming months, American officials here said, with the proceeds going toward repairing the damage done by their owner, Saddam Hussein's violent older son. He and his brother Qusay were killed on Tuesday in a raid by American soldiers.
For the moment, the objects, neatly cataloged on an 18-page list, sit in locked warehouses and storage rooms in the main palace that the American-led alliance uses as its headquarters here.
Because of their historical value, some of the items may be retained for a museum or documentary record of Saddam Hussein's rule, said Donald Eberly, an American official who has spent the last few months sorting through Uday's legacy of corruption and cruelty.
"Do they want to put this in a hall of remembrance, or do they want to forget it all?" Mr. Eberly asked. "That is going to be up to the Iraqis to decide."
Some Iraqis may not welcome an auction of Uday's possessions, whatever it yields.
"I don't like the Americans meddling with these things," said Fatina Hamdi at Baghdad University. "I think this is an Iraqi heritage, made with Iraqi money. And many of these things have value as history."
The canes, for instance, recall at least one turning point in Uday's life: the 1996 assassination attempt that left him crippled. In 1988, Uday may have used a cane to bludgeon to death Kamal Hana Gegeo, his father's valet, at a state dinner. Mr. Hussein imprisoned his son for a brief period, and many Iraqis say he became far more unstable and violent after that.
The canes — of ivory, ebony and other precious materials, carved with the heads of lions, monkeys and wild boars — now sit harmlessly in a pile in a basement storage room.
Maj. C. David Long, rummaging through the inventory today with a reporter, hefted an ordinary-looking cane and unsheathed it to reveal a gleaming sword. "That is so cool," he said.
Uday's vast store of liquor includes an astonishing amount of cheap Russian vodka and champagne. Some of the best wines, the Château Margaux, the vintage Sauterne and Petrus, have gone bad in the heat, said Capt. Scott Feldmayer, who helped to catalog the items.
He also had a cache of Unicef children's toys and watercolor sets that military officials here said had been stolen from aid packages sent to Iraq in the 1990's.
Then there are examples of spectacularly bad taste, including piles of phony Saladin-style helmets and gaudy swords, daggers and decorative saddles. There are painfully amateurish oil-on-canvas portraits of eagles and of the dictator and his family in Bedouin dress. At Uday's private palace, it only gets worse: some guest beds have monumental headboards made of plastic.
The estate is far from complete. Some of Uday's better known possessions — like his fleet of luxury cars, his mountains of pornography and his 1980's-style clothing — were lost to looters in the days after Baghdad fell. Some of his stolen children's toys have already been given away.
Among those that remain, perhaps the most striking items are his dozens of framed family photographs. They begin with a dark-eyed baby on a blue blanket.
Later, the teenage Uday appears with his father, looking disarmingly goofy in a bow tie and floppy green hat. There is a photograph of Uday and Qusay on a dock, wearing shorts and grinning excitedly, a pile of freshly caught fish at their feet.
In a later photograph, Uday is a young man, kneeling in front of a military helicopter in the desert. He has a high-powered rifle over his shoulder, and a dozen huge and blood-smeared birds lie on the sand in front of him.