Sophia's Peace Work

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The Best of the Best of the World

Now this is a story that the folks back in my seaport home can appreciate. Yesturday I met the Captain of Saddam's luxury yachts. He's retired now and runs a tiny convenience store near my hotel. I came into his store to buy a soda and Captain K introduced himself in English as having traveled all over the eastern seaboard of the U.S. He told me he had been a sea captain (not a big profession in a country that only has a tiny coast) and then the story came out of how he had been the captain of Saddam's luxury yachets the Qadasiya (now lying beached on the Tigris River not far from where we were talking) and Al Mansour (meaning "Victory"), which Saddam had built in Finland in 1982 and brought to Basra in southern Iraq in 1984 during the height of the Iran/Iraq war. Captain K told me his harrowing story of sneaking the
420 foot, $50 million dollar boat past the Iranians through the narrow Straight of Hormuz into the Gulf on a dark February night in 1984.

Captain K showed me a photograph of the boat (still flying a Finish flag) in it's glory days. The boat, he told me, was built with additional steel plating in the bow. "To handle heavy seas?" I asked.

Al Mansour after it was built ... still flying a Finnish flag

"No," he said, "To protect Saddam. His staterooms were in the bow."

Both boats were bombed and looted during the war. Al Mansour now lies on it's side in the Basra harbor struck during the war by American laser guided missiles. Here is an excerpt I found about this on the web (sorry, no source):

A new generation of "superbombs" were trotted out for their international debut on the brightly lit stage of nighttime Baghdad. While the Pentagon did not deploy its infamous 21,000-pound MOAB (wryly touted as the "Mother of All Bombs"), some of the weapons used in the assault on the capitol were so large that they left mushroom clouds boiling into the night sky.

When not bombing the bejeezus out of Baghdad, the Pentagon burned through millions of tax dollars conducting a series of spectacular "stunts" to demonstrate its killing prowess. One of the showiest examples involved the destruction of Saddam Hussein's luxurious private yacht, Al-Mansur (The Victor). The 420-foot, $50 million floating-palace was torn apart by allied planes that raked it with sixteen 500-lb, laser-guided bombs.

It should be noted that this attack did not sink the boat ... that didn't happen until a few months later, after the boat had also been attacked and looted by local Iraqis wanting to destroy anything related to the old regime.

The Mansour after the war in 2003, Basra Harbor (Reuters picture)

The Mansour today

Captain K wouldn't let me take his picture. He is trying to live a quiet life now in Baghdad. I asked him if he ever met Saddam. "No, never" he said, "And Saddam never saw his boat ... only pictures of it." But at one time, he said, it was the grandest yacht in existence. "Saddam wanted the best of the best of the world!" Captain K told me.

The Mansour was yet another example of Saddam's overarching ego and abuse of power but, as with all lovers of the sea, Captain K has strong feelings for the boats he sailed.

"Have you seen the Mansour since it was destroyed?" I asked him.

"No," he said, "I don't want to see it."


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