How to get a head in Saddam memorabilia market

How to get a head in Saddam memorabilia market
4 min read
19 Feb, 2015
A former Iraqi official is trying to sell the rope used in the execution of Saddam Hussein. It is not the first time people have tried to cash in on some of Iraq’s more morbid memorabilia.
Muwaffaq al-Rubaie, a rope and a statue (Getty)

It ought to be fairly difficult to convince someone to part with $7 million for a bundle of rope – even if it has the macabre history of being the rope used to hang former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.


One man, Iraq's ex-national security advisor Muwaffaq al-Rubaie, is trying to do just that. Our sister website al-Araby al-Jadeed Arabic reported earlier this month that Rubaie, who is apparently in possession of the rope and was an opposition figure under Saddam, had received offers from Kuwaiti businessmen and an Iranian religious organisation

     You can pick up a medallion for $150, or a watch apparently made for Saddam Hussein for $339.

who wanted to get their hands on the rope.


Now if Rubaie is looking for that kind of money – and he has not commented on the report – then I'd say he'd be lucky to get it.


But then again, he's not the first to try and get large amounts of money for handing over some Saddam-era goodies.


Earl Torres, a former US Army soldier who fought in the Iraq War, managed to pick himself up a quite impressive souvenir from his time fighting in Baghdad – a bronze bust of the former dictator. He wanted $10 million for it. Considering the rope is going for only $3 million less, that sounds like a fairly reasonable price.


So far, though, no reported takers.


Not all such ventures end happily. In 2012, a man who tried to sell another part of Saddam Hussein's statue anatomy – one buttock – was arrested in the UK. It was not for the temerity of attempting to sell such a sensitive part of a Saddam replica, but because the UK police believed that he had brought the bit of bronze back from Iraq illegally.


The man attempting to sell the buttock, former SAS soldier Nigel Ely, protested his incredulity at it being described as a national cultural property.


“How can it be classed as cultural property when it was put up by the biggest tyrant since Attila the Hun?” he argued. The police eventually released him without charge.


The buttock remains unsold.


Carlos Quirola will be hoping that US police are as lenient with him. He's pleaded guilty to attempting to sell guns believed to have belonged to Saddam. It just so happens that that counts as transporting stolen firearms. Probably better to stick to non-lethal memorabilia.


Florian Gottke, an academic at the University of Amsterdam who has written a book, Toppled, on the various statues of Saddam Hussein, said that he had not found much evidence of there being a large market for the busts during his investigations.


“In my research I didn't find a lot of information about parts of statues actually being sold,” Gottke said. “There was a report about the legs from the statue in Firdous Square being auctioned off online in Germany in 2004, but for quite a low amount and it was questionable if these were authentic.”


So it's probably best to check how reliable the seller is before parting with any of your hard-earned cash.


But why this fascination with Saddam Hussein memorabilia? And why are people apparently willing to pay large amounts of money for souvenirs from a murderous dictatorship?


“I would think there is a connection to souvenirs and war booty: material proof of an event that has relevance either personally or historically,” Gottke said.


A cursory look at a popular internet auction site shows that the trade for Saddam memorabilia is still going strong, but on slightly humbler scale than bronze busts and millions of dollars.


You can pick up a medallion for $150, or a watch apparently made for Saddam Hussein, and bearing his picture, for $339. The Jordanian seller has 100% positive feedback.


And if you prefer your Saddam-related gear to be more voodoo-like, then there's always an American-made “Saddam Hussein Beat Up Doll”. Only $40 and it's yours.  ​