BAGHDAD, Iraq – There was a bit of unfinished business left over in Baghdad from the 1991 Gulf War. The U.S. Army has taken care of it.
At the Al-Rashid Hotel, President Bush the elder — father of the current American chief executive who ordered this year's invasion of Iraq — is a doormat no more.
U.S. soldiers visited the battered Al-Rashid on Thursday night wielding hammers and chisels, and dug out the intricate tile mosaic of the former president that was used for years as a state-sponsored insult.
In its place, they laid a portrait of Saddam Hussein.
"Everybody walked over it and wiped their feet on it," Lt. Col. Rick Schwartz, the battalion commander said. He left the Saddam portrait behind, on the ground for future use.
Taking shoes to the face is not exactly a compliment in any culture, but in the Arab world it's a particular slam. Pointing the soles of one's feet at someone is a grave insult.
So the notion of thousands of Iraqi feet trudging over the patrician features of George Herbert Walker Bush was particularly appealing to Saddam's regime, humiliated by Bush during the 1991 Gulf War to free Kuwait from Iraqi invaders.
Saddam persoanlly picked the Al-Rashid for the insult to Bush senior. The hotel was heavily trafficked by foreign guests and the base of operations for journalists during the 1991 war — and the place where, on the night of the first American airstrike in January 1991, Arab guests huddled in the basement and shouted "Death to Bush."
The mosaic, an unflattering portrait of Bush with his teeth bared in a scowl, was installed later in 1991 right in the Al-Rashid's doorway complete with a caption in Arabic and English: "Bush is criminal."
The location made it almost impossible to avoid. And for years, it worked.
U.N. Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi stepped on the upper lip and part of the nose in 1997. Russian nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky trod upon the Adam's apple that same year after roundly condemning American aggression.
Former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter made a point of sidestepping it in 1998. As recently as November, chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix and International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohammed ElBaradei each trudged over a Bush shoulder.
On Thursday night, the Army forces destroying the mosaic chipped away until it was unrecognizable. They left behind thousands of little pieces in the concrete of the floor — as ravaged as the hotel itself, which is now uninhabitable.
"We did some remodeling," Schwartz said, referring to a battle that took place there when Iraqi snipers used the building to fire on U.S. forces.
Now, as people in Baghdad rush through the streets yelling "Bush! Bush!" and thrusting thumbs in the air, at the al-Rashid Hotel a decade-long insult has been removed — by a military commanded by a son who waged a second war on Iraq and insisted it wasn't personal.