by Lauren Rooney
Nestled in a tranquil location, with astounding panoramic views, expansive rooms, swimming pool and outhouses; this is the description of a house crafted for a Dictator.
Saddam Hussein commissioned the building to accommodate his visiting guests. What would have been a lavish mansion now, however, lays in a forlorn state with some new residents to occupy it.
Survivors of the continuing and brutal assaults of Islamic State militants have now taken refuge in the crumbling walls. These refugees, up to 30 families or more, have utilised the skeleton of this old manor to form a makeshift home. Many of the resident families flocked from Sinjar in August 2014, the resident Yezidi refugees fled from the Northern Iraq district as Islamic State Militants stormed their towns.
This onslaught of the Islamic State has brought the massacre of thousands and the enslavement of women and children.
Saddam Hussein’s guesthouse, 250 kilometers from Sinjar, becomes sanctuary for some. The outside would fool many as it appears to be desolate, but within lies a bustle. Children play amongst the rubble. Women hang their washing in what would have been the location of bay windows. The elder children assume roles like trying to fix the TV antennas on the roof. The men are out at work.
These refugees are trying to resume the average family life as much as possible, but any sense of normality is easily blown aside when a cold gust of winter air suddenly sweeps the manor. The wind not only brings with it the putrid odour of a neighbouring room being used for both discarded waste and as a lavatory, but also highlights some of the other struggles the refugees have to endure daily. United Nation tarpaulin sheets billow in the wind where they have been used to cover the holes and cracks in the walls, helping to mitigate damage when the rainfall comes. However not much can be done when the winter sun begins to melt the snow on the roof of the house. Water begins to trickle into every nook and cranny, soon to start cascading down the narrow stairway leaving the resident’s belongings awash.
Many are reluctant to go back to Sinjar now because of all they have had to bear witness to; the horror still ticks over in minds. The most recent family to move in come from Bashiqa, a town in the Mosul district which has now been wrestled back from under the control of the Islamic State by Kurdish forces. Rohat from Bashiqa is still deeply affected by what he had to see. The 17 year old roamed the manor fixing odds and ends to at least give some of the house a sense of upkeep. Rohat says, “I will get a job here and never go back to Mosul, the thought of it scares me too much. I would like to learn how to build houses then at least I will be able to make this one even more beautiful.”
Not all is lost. Families feel safe here and are starting to rebuild their lives from what little they have. The Dictator Saddam Hussein’s efforts did not go to waste, with people now able to take shelter in the remains of what he left.