- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 4, 2002

BAGHDAD It lasted only 15 minutes, but the groundbreaking U.N. inspection of Baghdad's al-Sajoud palace yesterday afforded the foreign media a tantalizing glimpse into the sumptuous private life of one of the world's most secretive strongmen.
After the U.N. arms specialists completed a two-hour disarmament check, guards threw back the black steel gates and admitted about 100 journalists to the white marble palace, one of two in the center of Baghdad.
Spreading over dozens of acres, the immaculately maintained compound is one of eight dotted around the country reserved for President Saddam Hussein.
Behind the high walls, teams of gardeners tended the rose beds amid well-kept lawns.
Palm trees line the broad avenue leading up to an octagonal three-story entrance hall.
A gleaming blue cupola tops the Islamic-style mansion overlooking the Tigris River.
Inside the huge, high-ceilinged reception chamber, intricate Arabic calligraphy commemorating the past glories of Iraq and its capital decorates the marble walls, while ornate carpets cover the floors.
But there are no pictures of Saddam, whose portraits are ubiquitous across the rest of Iraq.
The sumptuous surroundings and beautiful vistas of the al-Sajoud are not for Saddam himself but reserved for his VIP guests.
The reclusive Saddam typically prefers the one-square-mile Republican Palace, where he keeps his main office, as well as those of the Special Security Forces, which protect the ruling elite, and the Republican Guard, a well-trained and loyal military force.
Within Baghdad, Saddam also has the alternative of the Radwaniya palace, a 6.7-square-mile compound just west of the city center.
No palace officials came to take charge of the media on their rare glimpse of the al-Sajoud palace.
But palace guards swiftly materialized to stop prying eyes from venturing too far inside its silent corridors.
There was nothing to suggest that Saddam had been in the compound at the time the inspectors arrived in the first use of sweeping powers granted them under the disarmament regime adopted by the U.N. Security Council on Nov. 8.
Scale models on display in the entrance hall showed the painstaking care with which al-Sajoud was reconstructed after the damage it sustained during the 1991 Gulf war.
Despite the tough U.N. trade embargo in force since Iraq's invasion of Kuwait the previous year, the palace was meticulously restored.
Just a single feature hinted at the toll of 12 years of embargo on the way of life of even Iraq's most powerful man: The huge artificial lake that dominates the park outside lies empty, its fountains idle, a symptom of the problems that have hit much of the country's water supply.
Meanwhile, a senior Iraqi official said Baghdad will reaffirm in a crucial upcoming report to the United Nations that it has no weapons of mass destruction despite U.S. and British charges to the contrary.

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