Reporter’s Notebook: Palace fish feast on leftovers at Camp Liberty
Stars and Stripes August 27, 2006
BAGHDAD — The infamous resident may be gone, but the fish are still living large at Saddam Hussein’s former lakeside pleasure palace on what is now Camp Liberty in Baghdad.
A huge colony of small fish — each resembling a cross between a catfish and an eel — meets every night in a roiling black mass in the lagoon outside the distinguished-visitors dining hall. After the visitors have had their fill, the fish feast on their leftovers. The tradition of feeding the fish goes back at least two years, said Sgt. Rick Thompson, who does the 7 p.m. feedings.
Thompson, 37, of Chicago, regularly empties half-full trays of food: on a recent night, the fish feasted on chili macaroni and corned beef casserole, mixed vegetables and salad. As soon as the food hit the water, the waiting fish erupted into a riot of heads, tails and mouths.
Their favorite meal?
“Meat,” Thompson said with a grin. “You want to go swimming?”
To illustrate, he dipped his finger into the mass of feeding fish. Less than five seconds later, he pulled out his hand with a yelp.
“Hey!” he yelled, nursing his wet finger. “That punk bit me!”
Living the high lifeSpeaking of the high life, distinguished visitors to Iraq’s largest American base live it up in style in Saddam’s former hunting lodge on Camp Liberty.
The self-proclaimed five-star hotel, which sits across the lagoon from Saddam’s Al-Faw palace, was no doubt designed to awe the despot’s visitors with its grandeur. However, the abundance of gilt, marble, mirrors, fake flowers and crystal achieves more of a Donatella-Versace-meets-Wal-Mart aesthetic.
The hotel features intricate (and fake) Moroccan tile work, marble surfaces, salons upholstered with (fake) Louis XVI furniture, chandeliers galore and even Saddam’s surprisingly small private book collection (which has been meticulously curated by American forces).
For guests, the hotel features large, equally gaudily decorated rooms and a luxury rarely seen in Iraq: at least one bathtub.
Co-ed bathroom jittersThe visitors’ bureau is also home to an unusual feature, even for Iraq: a co-ed bathroom trailer. The trailer, which has only toilets and sinks, has one main entrance for everyone, though each gender has a set of private, gender-specific stalls. Men’s stalls are at one end of the long trailer, women’s, at the other.
Still, the thought of doing business in the same room as the opposite sex clearly makes most users a little nervous.
On a recent day, a male officer summed up how most users feel.
“Co-ed bathrooms,” he said to a nearby woman as he washed his hands. “Weird, huh?”