3 Nov 2008

Saddam's luxury yacht for sale

4:08 pm on 3 November 2008

The Iraqi government is to sell a luxury yacht which was previously owned by former leader Saddam Hussein.

The 82-metre Ocean Breeze is equipped with swimming pools, an operating theatre, a helipad and an escape tunnel leading to a submarine.

Iraq decided to sell the yacht after winning a legal battle with a Jordanian company over its ownership.

However, brokers say the decor may not suit all tastes. The BBC reports it is decorated in what has been described as "Arabesque" style, with mahogany carvings, gold tap fittings and brightly-coloured deep-pile carpets.

Originally called Qadissiyet Saddam after an historic Iraqi military victory, the ship was built in a Danish shipyard in 1981 by workers sworn to secrecy.

Saddam is never thought to have stayed on board the yacht himself, fearing political instability if he left Iraq. His security concerns were well catered for - the yacht has a doctor's clinic and mini operating theatre, and its banquetting rooms seating 250 people was bullet-proof.

For most of its life, Ocean Breeze was moored in Saudi Arabia - until last year, when it arrived in the French port of Nice and remained there while its ownership was determined. A French court ruled that it should be returned to the Iraqi government.

The ministries of finance and foreign affairs will be responsible for the sale. Offers in the region of $US35 million are expected.

Lavish lifestyle

Saddam, whose decades-long regime came to an abrupt end after a US-led invasion in 2003 and who was hanged in 2006 for crimes against humanity, was known for a lavish lifestyle.

His many palaces were replete with marble, gold-trimmed furniture and sumptuous gardens even as ordinary Iraqis suffered under severe economic sanctions.

Shortly after the American invasion in 2003, US official estimated that Saddam and his family may have amassed up to $US40 billion in ill-gotten funds.

US missiles and bombs destroyed another luxurious Saddam yacht, the Al Mansur, in southern Iraq in 2003.