BAGHDAD -- The Iraqi government says several of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's most lavish palaces will be transformed into tourist facilities, museums, and galleries, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reports.
Tourism and Antiquities Ministry spokesman Abdul Zahra Talaqani told RFE/RL on June 16 that as the government prepares to take over nine of Hussein's former palaces currently being used by U.S. forces, it has decided to restrict their future use to tourism and cultural purposes.
Talaqani said some of the palaces will be refitted to serve as resorts and cultural institutions, including a palace in north Baghdad that overlooks the Tigris River that will be turned into a holiday resort.
He added that another palace in west Baghdad will house the national archives and a center for historical manuscripts, while the British are helping to transform a palace in the southern city of Basra into the province's main museum.
Talaqani said the architectural value and other features of the dozens of palaces that Hussein built -- most costing tens of millions dollars -- are expected to generate interest among local Iraqis as well as foreign visitors while promoting international tourism.
Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari has told RFE/RL that a number of the palaces in Baghdad were selected to accommodate heads of states attending the Arab League summit that was scheduled this year to be held in Baghdad but was postponed in light of the antigovernment revolts in the Muslim world known as the Arab
Economist Basil Jamil Antoine says that Hussein's palaces have great potential as tourist attractions, considering that many of them were built with unrivaled extravagance at a time when many Iraqis had to endure extreme poverty under international sanctions throughout the 1990s and until Hussein's ouster in 2003. The former Iraqi leader was executed in 2006.
There are an estimated 65 former presidential palaces, mansions, compounds, and villas that were previously off limits to all Iraqis except for Hussein's closest associates and family members.