Saddam’s Palaces

"Uday's Palace", Jebel Makhoul, Iraq 2009

"Uday's Palace", Jebel Makhoul, Iraq 2009

Photographer Richard Mosse was recently featured BLDGBLOG, one of my favorite architecture blogs run by Geoff Manaugh. The pictures show the extravagance of Saddam Hussein’s imperial palaces converted to plywood built forts resembling college dorms with all its amenities of “weight sets, flags, partition walls, sofas, basketball hoops, and even posters of bikini’d women have been imported to fill Saddam’s spatial residuum. The effect is oddly decorative, as if someone has simply moved in for a long weekend, unpacking an assortment of mundane possessions. The effect is like an ironic form of camouflage, making the perilously foreign seem all the more familiar and habitable—a kind of military twist on postmodern interior design.” See more of what Mosse has to say about his project after the jump.

BLDGBLOG: The way these structures have been colonized is often amusing and sometimes shocking—the telephones, desks, and instant dormitories that turn an imperial palace into what looks like a suburban office or hospital waiting room. Can you describe some of the spatial details of these soldiers’ lives that most struck you?

Mosse: It was extraordinary how some of the palace interiors had been transformed to accommodate the soldiers. Troops scurried beneath vaulted ceilings and glittering faux-crystal chandeliers. Lofty marble columns towered over rat runs between hastily constructed chipboard cubicles. Obama’s face beamed out of televisions overlooking the freezers and microwaves of provisional canteen spaces.

Many of the palaces have already been handed back to the Iraqis—but where Americans troops do remain, they live in very cramped conditions, pissing into a hole in the ground and waiting days just to shower. Life is hard on the front line, and it seems more than a little surreal to be ticking off the days in a dictator’s pleasure dome.”

"Al Faw Palace", Camp Victory, Iraq 2009

"Al Faw Palace", Camp Victory, Iraq 2009

“The most interesting thing about the whole endeavor for me was the very fact that the U.S. had chosen to occupy Saddam’s palaces in the first place. If you’re trying to convince a population that you have liberated them from a terrible dictator, why would you then sit in his throne? A savvier place to station the garrison would have been a place free from associations with Saddam, and the terror and injustices that the occupying forces were convinced they’d done away with. Instead, they made the mistake of repeating history.

This is why I’ve titled this body of work Breach. “Breach” is a military maneuver in which the walls of a fortification (or palace) are broken through. But breach also carries the sense of replacement—as in, stepping into the breach. The U.S. stepped into the breach that it had created, replacing the very thing that it sought to destroy…”

Photos by Richard Mosse

"Saddam's heads", taken from the roof of the Republican Guard Palace, now located at Al-Salam Palace, FOB Prosperity, Baghdad, Iraq 2009

Photos by Richard Mosse

"Interior of Birthday Palace", Tikrit, Iraq 2009

"Hands of Victory Monument", Grand Festivities Square, Baghdad, Iraq 2009

"Hands of Victory Monument", Grand Festivities Square, Baghdad, Iraq 2009