United Nations weapons inspectors are demanding access to eight of Saddam Hussein's presidential palaces in Iraq. Defectors and Iraqi opposition figures claim that the palaces number several dozen. So, how many palaces does Saddam have, exactly?
A 1999 State Department report estimated that Saddam had built 48 palaces since 1991, at a cost of approximately $2.2 billion. This was in addition to the 20 or so palaces he possessed prior to the Gulf War, some of which were destroyed or sustained heavy damage during the conflict. The State Department alleged that the money to finance the building spree came primarily from oil smuggling, as well as from the resale of such U.N.-supplied humanitarian commodities as baby formula.
The discrepancy between the U.S. and U.N. estimates is due in large part to the inspectors' imprecise use of the word "palaces" to describe the eight sites they've targeted as potential hiding spots for weapons. Each presidential compound covers several acres and includes multiple mansions, which the State Department sometimescounted separately;the Republican Palace in Baghdad, for example, is rumored to contain over 700 buildings, including villas, warehouses, garages, and military command posts.
The exact number of Saddam's luxury residences is difficult to know, since architects and engineers assigned to the projects have reportedly been threatened with execution should they discuss their work, even privately. Iraqi opposition figures claim that at least one prominent architect was killed after describing the extravagance of Saddam's palaces to friends.
Saddam isn't always so touchy about his homes, however. Last year, the official Iraqi newspaper announced that the president had invited hundreds of ordinary citizens into his palaces to celebrate the end of Ramadan. The locations of the party spots, however, were not published.