I was directed to the house of Odai Hussein, Saddam Hussein’s oldest son, by a man leading what appeared to be a white Arabian horse down a street in Baghdad. He was very pleased with the horse, which he said he had taken from a stable at Odai’s house. We decided to investigate.
We soon found the gaudy villa, soaring for several floors on the banks of the Tigris River. Only days ago, it was a place ordinary Iraqis were forbidden even to look at for fear for their lives.
Inside, broad archways encircled a soaring atrium, with a balcony opening onto a sweeping view of the Tigris and the city.
Odai, 39, was Saddam’s heir apparent until a 1996 shooting. Volatile, with a reputation for violence and a penchant for flamboyant clothes and fast cars, he was badly wounded in the shooting attack.
But Thursday, Iraqis who had lived for years in fear of him wasted no time in clearing the house of any furnishings and wrecking what could not be easily taken. They carted off bottles of wine and whiskey, guns and paintings of half-naked women, and took objects from his yacht, docked in the adjacent private marina.
About the only thing they had not managed to remove or destroy was an ornate chandelier hanging in the center of the atrium. Call it plunder, if you will, or call it payback.
This district was once the domain of only the chosen few. But on Thursday persecuted Iraqis got their revenge, and there was much booty to be had.
We found a group of Iraqis rifling the home of a senior member of the Mukhabarat, Saddam’s dreaded secret police.
Aside from serving as a home, the residence seemed to have had a more ominous purpose.
One room contained what appeared to be a monitoring station, with sophisticated equipment, including recording gear.
In the basement, we found archives still smoldering from an attempt at burning them and more evidence of electronic surveillance.
This had been a nerve center for spying, a place where the bully boys kept tabs on ordinary Iraqis to keep control.
The monitoring equipment was quite ordinary, but it took on a sinister appearance in the bowels of the building — part of the apparatus of Big Brother.
(John Irvine is an correspondent for Britain’s Independent Television News, a partner of NBC News. Reuters contributed to this report.)