UJA, Iraq – U.S. authorities on Wednesday prepared to demolish Saddam Hussein's five palatial homes in the village where he was born, having stripped them of expensive marbles, tiles and valuable furniture.
The 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, based in Tikrit (search), received permission from coalition authorities Tuesday to go ahead with the demolition in Uja village (search), said the commander, Lt. Col. Steve Russell.
For the past couple of months, contractors hired by the U.S. forces have been removing valuable materials from the homes including hand-cut Italian bricks and polished marble tiles, Russell told reporters taken on a tour of the ousted dictator's home.
Saddam's home and adjoining gardens were surrounded by dates and orange groves. The main entrance to the building was covered in blue and white tiles. Inside, the high ceilings were covered with Arabesque geometrical designs and artwork.
A covered walkway connected the main house to an indoor swimming pool with glass walls and red-and-white tiled floors. The walls are now shattered and the pool partially drained. Salvaged tiles were laid in neat piles.
Parts of the house were destroyed by U.S. missiles during the war on Iraq last year.
Saddam was born April 28, 1937 in Uja, many of whose 3,500 people are his clansmen and distant relatives. Russell said the majority of attacks against coalition forces since the fall of Saddam's regime last April had links to Uja residents.
In addition to the massive four-story residence toured by reporters, the other homes slated for demolition were built by Saddam for the exclusive use of his two brothers and sons Uday and Qusay (search).
Saddam had built palatial homes in most major cities of Iraq in addition to palaces in Baghdad.
He was captured Dec. 13 in another town close to Uja. Uday and Qusay were killed in a fire-fight with U.S. forces in the northern town of Mosul on July 22.
Russell said that once the homes are leveled the property would be returned to the owner, Sheik Mahmoud Nassiri, from whom Saddam had seized the land. He did not say when the demolition will begin or how long it will last.
Also Wednesday, Iraqi workers under U.S. supervision began removing razor wire from around the village, about three months after the barriers were erected to restrict movement around the resistance hotbed.
Officials said the operation would take about four days.
U.S. authorities clamped restrictions on Uja, located just south of Tikrit, in late October because of suspicions the village was a focal point in the resistance to the American-led occupation.
"This village contained a lot of residents that were close to the former regime including Saddam Hussein, his brothers and other members of his family," said Russell, whose regiment is based in Tikrit, 6 miles to the north.
The 5-mile long barbed wire fence was set up at the end of October in an attempt to weed out any anti-coalition forces and to control access to the town. Residents were not allowed to enter or leave the village without showing U.S.-approved identity papers. Outsiders were not allowed to enter the community.
Amil Heza Ali, 65, said that the people of Uja are happy to see the fence go.
"We are very happy to have the barbed wire taken down because now people don't feel they are trapped in prison or jailed any more," he said.