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Saddam Hussein's Yacht Back In Iraq

Saddam Hussein's luxury yacht, shown here in Greece in 2009, has gold-plated bathroom fixtures, a helipad and its own minisubmarine.
Thanassis Stavrakis
Saddam Hussein's luxury yacht, shown here in Greece in 2009, has gold-plated bathroom fixtures, a helipad and its own minisubmarine.

A 269-foot yacht commissioned by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 1981 has finally made its way home after spending decades on loan.

Iraq was at war with Iran when the yacht was finally finished in the 1980s, so Hussein never even had a chance to use it. He apparently lent the yacht, which was built in Denmark for about $25 million, to the royal families of Oman, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Then, in 2008, the yacht, with its gold-plated bathroom fixtures, a helipad and minisubmarine, went up for sale by a company partly owned by the King of Jordan. The Iraqi government fought the move and last year won the case in a French appeals court.

The yacht was then sent to Greece for renovations, says Iraqi Transportation Minister Amer Abdul Jabar Ismail ,and then sailed to the southern port of Basra. The boat is currently the property of Iraq's Ministry of Transportation.

Plans for the boat are still unclear. Ismail says he wants it to be a museum. Other officials want to sell it. But people in Basra told NPR they doubt they'd ever see any of that money, that the new government taking shape in Iraq has the potential to be just as plutocratic as Saddam's.

As he plucks some trash that's stuck to the bottom of his shoe and hands it to an aide, Ismail says it's about time he had his turn. Under Saddam, he worked as an engineer on oil tankers. He remembers one day when his tanker pulled up next to one of Saddam's other yachts.

"The captain of this Saddam yacht told me, 'Please, I need some assist, we need repair.' I speak, 'Yes,' because I can't refuse," Ismail says.

But then one of Saddam's henchmen appeared. After that, Ismail was detained and interrogated for an entire day.

Ismail eventually was let go -- with a threat: " 'If I see you again, I kill you,' " Ismail says he was told.

Now, Ismail says, the tables have turned.

"But now, I stay here -- in Saddam's position. You see? Now I receive Saddam's salon, Saddam's bedroom," he says. "I read in the Koran. I sleep in the bed. I use bathroom. I use everything here."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Kelly McEvers is a two-time Peabody Award-winning journalist and former host of NPR's flagship newsmagazine, All Things Considered. She spent much of her career as an international correspondent, reporting from Asia, the former Soviet Union, and the Middle East. She is the creator and host of the acclaimed Embedded podcast, a documentary show that goes to hard places to make sense of the news. She began her career as a newspaper reporter in Chicago.