On Saddam anniversary, Iraq readies macabre museum

The man putting together Iraq’s newest museum doesn’t like to be alone in his office, where he keeps bloodied nooses, a medieval-looking torture device and boxes of documents chronicling atrocities under Saddam Hussein.

”It’s uncomfortable. You feel as if there’s someone there with you,” said the soft-spoken court official, who asked to go unnamed. To escape the eeriness, he works alongside colleagues next door.

On the two-year anniversary of Saddam’s death by hanging, Iraq is preparing to open a new museum that will allow Iraqis to see up close such macabre mementos of mass executions, torture and other atrocities committed in Saddam’s decades-long rule.

Iraq’s High Tribunal, set up after the United States-led invasion to try major crimes from Saddam’s Ba’athist government, will open the museum in two months in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone.

It will showcase torture devices such as a man-shaped metal cage where, in the Iraqi Olympic centre, Saddam’s son Uday used to lock underperforming athletes for weeks at a time — and set them naked under the burning sun, the metal searing their flesh.

There is a steel bar from an intelligence centre, with a specially welded hook from which countless Iraqis were hung.

It will include personal effects found with Saddam when he was discovered hiding on an Iraqi farm in December 2003, including a Qur’an, a cassette recording of Mozart and a dusty black briefcase.

Chairs will be on display that were sat in by Saddam and his top lieutenants during their High Tribunal trials, including the one that ended in Saddam’s execution for killing 148 men and boys following an assassination attempt in 1982.

The museum will also have a research centre where legal researchers or historians can comb through 26-million documents, including the handwritten orders to crush opposition from minority Kurds, which led to the death of tens of thousands.

”We thought that people might forget the works committed by dictators who committed horrible acts against them,” said Judge Arif Abdel-Razaq al-Shaheen, who heads the High Tribunal.

Iraq still sifting through crimes
A floor below al-Shaheen’s office, the High Tribunal on Tuesday continued proceedings against Ali Hassan al-Majeed, a Saddam confidante known as ”Chemical Ali”, for his role in gassing Kurds, and Tareq Aziz, a former deputy prime minister, on charges that they systematically crushed political opponents.

Al-Majeed has already been sentenced twice to death, but his execution has been held up by political disputes. Since Saddam was executed, his half-brother and several other officials have been sent to the gallows as well.

The new case against al-Majeed, Aziz and more than 20 others revolves around the arrest and execution of tens of thousands of members of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Dawa party.

Its timing rankled some politicians outside al-Maliki’s sphere, who complained it was a bid to influence provincial elections next month that will be a test of rival parties’ influence and will set the tone for parliamentary polls in late 2009.

Violence has dropped sharply, but Iraq risks sliding back into civil war if it can’t bury deep political grievances.

Shaheen rejected that any of the tribunal’s dozen or so cases have been politicised, just as he sought to separate the new Saddam museum from the fractious politics of Iraq today, where former enemies have yet to fully reconcile.

”This is not related to national reconciliation. This museum is about history. History must not be forgotten,” he said. — Reuters

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