As Slate's Timothy Noah has pointed out,Saddam Hussein is quite fond of naming Baghdad landmarks after himself—in addition to battle-torn Saddam International Airport, there's Saddam Mosque, Saddam Central Hospital, and International Saddam Tower (topped with a revolving restaurant). But many of the city's most famous sites bear the name "Rashid"—the Al-Rashid Hotel, Al-Rashid Street, and the Al-Rashid army base, to name a few. Who is "Rashid," and why has Saddam spared these landmarks his eponymous touch?
Even an egoist of Saddam's stature knows that "Rashid" is a hallowed name among Iraqis, since it's shared by two of the nation's greatest icons. Fans of The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night (also known as Arabian Nights) will recognize the name Harun al-Rashid, the fifth ruler of the Abbasid caliphate. Al-Rashid, whose reign lasted from A.D. 786-809, is renowned as the caliph who presided over Baghdad's golden age. A generous patron of the arts and sciences, he was immortalized in the fairy tales of Scheherazade, the storytelling narrator of Arabian Nights. When Saddam first ascended to the presidency in 1979, much of his early propaganda focused on drawing comparisons between himself and al-Rashid, as a way of convincing Iraqis that he'd lead them into a new era of greatness.
Then there's Rashid Ali al-Gailani, often hailed as the father of Iraqi nationalism. Throughout the 1930s, Iraq was essentially a client state of Great Britain, bound to the colonial power by a "cooperation pact." Though fervently anti-British, Rashid Ali (as he's popularly known) was named prime minister of Iraq in 1940; the following April, with German military assistance, he led a military coup against the Iraqi monarchy. His reign as a Pan-Arab president lasted mere weeks, as the British swiftly moved to crush the revolt and secure their access to Iraq's oil. Rashid Ali fled, first to Iran, then to Nazi Germany and Saudi Arabia. He returned to his native land only after the 1958 revolution, which established the first Iraqi republic. Despite the brevity of his time in power, Rashid Ali remains a hero to Saddam's Baath Party.