At Hussein Grave, Legend Lives as Fury Simmers

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AWJA, Iraq — The grave site has a forlorn, even jumbled air. There are filigreed inscriptions hailing him as a martyr, as a hero of the insurgency and as “the eagle of the Arabs,” his favorite sobriquet. But alongside these there is the mundane bric-a-brac of his life — a carved wooden eagle hung with his personal prayer beads, and a gallery of informal photographs, one showing him with a cigar.

Saddam Hussein’s burial place, in his native village on the banks of the Tigris, may be the only public space in Iraq where the former ruler, hanged in December at the age of 69, is openly extolled. Under a decree dating from the American occupation in 2003, still in force under the new Iraqi government, all paintings, photographs and statues of Mr. Hussein are forbidden, as are public protests in his support. At least in terms of public hagiography, he remains, everywhere else in Iraq, a nonperson.

But in Awja, Mr. Hussein’s legend lives on, though only as a pale shadow of what it was. The old reception center where he lies — renamed “Martyrs’ Hall” by the family members who manage it — has none of the grandeur of the palaces he built during his 24-year rule. The trickle of visitors drops on some days to twos and threes, and only rarely reaches double figures, far short of making Awja a pilgrimage site on the scale of Iraq’s religious shrines.

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