Saddam Hussein made his palaces a desert paradise, but now his hometown is seeking foreign investors to turn the late dictator’s playground into a tourist mecca.
Local officials see the 76 abandoned Saddam villas sprawled across hundreds of hectares (acres) as a potential gold mine for Tikrit’s cash-strapped Salahuddin province.
“These villas only need rehabilitation and a few other things to turn the whole area into a wonderful tourism site,” Jewher Hamad al-Fahel, the head of Salahuddin’s investment commission, told Reuters Television.
Saddam built big at Tikrit, his tribal stronghold about 95 miles north of Baghdad. He put up six villas at his birthplace, the village of al-Awja, alone and made the Tikrit palace complex his largest.
Boasting artificial lakes and date orchards, the site totals 136 buildings and covers more than 1,000 acres, according to the U.S. Army. American troops used it as a base until turning it over to Iraqi authorities in November 2005.
Now many of the sand-colored structures, often domed and turreted and with marbled interiors, sit decaying near the Tigris River. Some still show heavy damage from the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that overthrew Saddam.
Salahuddin Governor Mutasher Hussein Allawi said he was eager to smooth the way for foreign investment in the villas since his budget was too small to rebuild decrepit infrastructure quickly.