|Filed October 23, 2002 By Jeremy Scahill
BAGHDAD‹The Victory Museum in Baghdad has a million stories
to tell. But they have little to do with Mesopotamia and Iraq's
rich history and culture. The museum, also known as "The Triumph
Leader Museum," houses the official archives of gifts given to President
Saddam Hussein by foreign heads of state and other dignitaries.
|Cowboy boots, by Zeferino and Eli Rios, Mercedes,
Texas, ca. 1953. Gift of the Rioses to U.S. President Dwight
Photo: National Archives
There are traditional guyaberra shirts from Cuban President Fidel
Castro, a small model of the Al Aqsa Mosque from Palestinian leader
Yasser Arafat. There are golden swords and platinum chess sets.
But don't look to find any gifts from the US. It's not that Ronald
Reagan didn't shower the Iraqi president with them in the 1980s‹he
did. Reagan gave the Iraqi leader pistols, medieval spiked hammers‹even
a pair of golden cowboy spurs. The gifts flowed at a time when Washington
directed an open pipeline of weapons and other goods to Baghdad
during the Iran-Iraq War.
But the cases that once housed the expensive trinkets of Reagan's
gratitude are now empty. They haven't been stolen and Saddam is
not running around wearing the spurs and firing off rounds on Ronny's
pistols. According to the chief guide at the museum, all of the
gifts from America‹including three unidentified gifts from Bush
the father prior to the Gulf War‹have been removed and placed in
what he described as a "secret" location.
"They represented to us a time when the relationship between Iraq
and the USA was very healthy," said the guide, who did not want
us to print his name. "This was the best time for us during the
1980s and we will return them back when the war is over."
The only gift from America we managed to actually find in the museum
was an NFL football autographed by the entire 1982 New York Giants
team. A gift our guide told us was "from one of the players."
Also MIA are the letters from the elder Bush congratulating the
Iraqi president on his reelection, as are the copies of Saddam's
letter to Bush upon his victory in 1988. "We withdrew them to another
place," the tour guide said.
The museum also contains a sprawling wall full of pictures of Saddam
with foreign heads of state and dignitaries: Marshall Tito, Indira
Ghandi, Nikola Coucesceau, Fidel Castro, Brezniev. There's even
a picture of Saddam and a much younger Jacques Chirac drinking milk.
But the guide told us that over the last decade, those relations
have soured a bit.
In the places where the photos with Americans once stood, there
is simply bare space. The picture of the current US Defense Secretary,
Donald Rumsfeld, shaking hands with the Iraqi leader in December
1983, when he served as Reagan's special envoy to the Middle East
Saddam in Rumsfeld's Closet"), was nowhere to be found.
But it isn't simply because of the hostilities toward Iraq that
gifts have been removed. Some of them have great monetary value
and the museum guide says they have been removed in preparation
for possible US bombing. "Because of the American aggression and
we want to save them. The aggression is not finished. Until the
bombing is finished, until the shooting is finished, the aggression
The museum guide is an extremely pleasant man, who speaks both Russian
and English. He is from Saddam's hometown of Tikrit and takes his
job seriously and carries it out with tremendous pride. He can tell
you test scores achieved in primary school by young Saddam ("the highest
marks"). Standing over an elegant chess set, he confides, "the president
is an excellent player, but he doesn't have time." He kisses a model
copy of the Holy Q'uran written entirely with Saddam's blood. And
he becomes very sober when asked about the Iraqi leader's 1959 failed
assassination attempt against then-Iraqi President Abdul Karim Qasim.
|Photo courtesy of Iraqi Mission to the
"Our president and his friend tried to kill him, but they failed
unfortunately," he said, adding: "[Qasim] was an ungood man, a bad
As we wound up the tour, our guide told us that he hoped the time
would soon come when the museum can take Reagan's golden spurs and
pistols out of hiding. "We hope that the relationship will get back
because we want to live safe and the battle didn't bring us anything‹only
blood, death and orphans. We hate war, believe me."
Scahill is an independent journalist, who reports for the nationally
syndicated Radio and TV show Democracy Now! He is currently based
in Baghdad, Iraq, where he and filmmaker Jacquie
Soohen are coordinating Iraqjournal.org,
the only website providing regular independent reporting from the
ground in Baghdad.
Back to the Index.