Iraqi officials are doing their very best to pretend that the government does not have a 605-page Koran written in 27 liters of Saddam Hussein's blood. The little-discussed document is hidden behind three vault doors in a secure room beneath a mosque in Baghdad, where it requires the approval of a government committee and three separate keys--one of which is kept by the chief of police--just to view. The Guardian's Martin Chulov reports the story of the remarkable and "macabre" Koran, which has raised political and theological questions so thorny as to cause something of an internal governmental stalemate.
The Shia-led regime is highly sensitive to the re-emergence of any symbols that might lionise the remnants of the Ba'athist rank and file, which still orchestrates bombings and assassinations every few days.
And then there are the Sunnis themselves, who are fearful of government retribution if they open the doors and of divine disapproval if they treat this particularly gruesome volume of the Qur'an with the reverence of a holy book.
"It was wrong to do what he did, to write it in blood," says Sheikh Samarrai. "It is haraam [forbidden]."
Haraam, and also disgusting. Saddam reportedly had it written "in a ghoulish bid for piety" over two years in the late 1990s. The calligrapher, Abbas Shakir Joody al-Baghdadi, would write out pages using a tool connected to Saddam's veins, with a nurse overseeing the procedures. Baghdadi, who is one of the few Saddam-connected Iraqis to have found refuge in the U.S., is so scarred by the experience he still will not discuss it over a decade later.
"I don't like to talk about this now," says Baghdadi, speaking by telephone from the US state of Virginia, where he now lives. "It was painful part of my life that I want to forget about."
The incident reveals the pitfalls of majority Shia rule in a country once led by the Sunni minority, the difficulty of overcoming Baathist legacy, and the impossibly complicated intertwinement of politics, security, and sectarianism in Iraq. It also serves as an important reminder of a fact often overlooked in the heated debates over the Iraq war and its effects: Saddam Hussein was really, really nuts.
Update: The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal beat us to it. In flagging the story, he wrote, "Dictators develop some odd behaviors."