Saddam's Hometown Palace to Transfer to Iraqis
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 21, 2005 In what's being regarded as a highly symbolic development in Iraq, coalition forces will turn over former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's palace in Tikrit to the new Iraqi government during Nov. 22 ceremonies.
The sprawling palace complex in Saddam's hometown, 90 miles north of Baghdad, is the largest and most elaborate of his presidential sites, a senior military official in Iraq said today on background.
The U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division initially secured the complex in 2003, dubbing it Camp Iron Horse. The camp served as the division's headquarters when its members captured Saddam in December 2003, explained Army Lt. Col. Barry Venable, a Pentagon spokesman.
The 1st Infantry Division renamed the camp Forward Operating Base Danger when it assumed authority for the camp in 2004.
Venable said the Nov. 22 ceremonies mark far more than the turnover of a single, albeit significant, property. The camp is the 29th of 110 forward operating bases to be either transferred to the Iraqis or closed, he said. Iraqi security forces are using 15 of the bases.
"These transitions, taken individually, don't appear significant," Venable said. "But in a collective sense, they show evidence that progress is being made in handing over responsibility for Iraq to the Iraqis."
Venable called this a cornerstone of the campaign plan to successfully complete the mission in Iraq.
The transfers help dispel any misperceptions that the situation in Iraq remains static, Venable said.
"In reality, the opposite is true," he said. "Aside from transferring bases to Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi people, we're also in the process of handing over security responsibility to Iraqi forces."
Today, one Iraqi division, five brigades and 36 battalions have taken the lead in their areas, compared to one brigade and 11 battalions just five months ago, Venable said. Iraqis now have the lead in roughly 90 square miles of Baghdad, an entire Iraqi province and more than 450 square miles in other provinces, he said.
The 42nd Infantry Division assumed control of the base in February 2005 and began the process of returning the complex to the Iraqis in July. The Nov. 22 ceremony marks the end of that process, Venable said.
Once reserved for the Saddam regime's elite, the complex will now benefit all Iraqis, as it is transferred to Iraq's Ministry of Finance, the official in Iraq said today. He called the transfer a landmark event that showcases the Iraqi government's sovereignty and the increasing ability of Iraq's security forces to ensure their country's security.
"We are committed to turning this property over to the Iraqi government as the Iraqi security forces prove their readiness for us to consolidate our forces, reduce our footprint, and in many cases, deliberately get a bit farther outside of cities, because we think that's beneficial for us to do that," the official said.
The sprawling complex stretches over 1,000 acres of land on the banks of the Tigris River, and includes 136 buildings with 1.5 million square feet of administrative and living space and 40 support structures, Venable said. It also includes 14 palace structures, a three-story hospital, a small crematorium, two mosques, an unused mausoleum and two artificial lakes.
Iraq's Ministry of Defense is using the island portion of the complex as a regional training center, Venable said.