| The Al Mansur lies at the dockside in central Basra on Friday. (AFP)
Saddam Hussein’s once gleaming, multi-million-pound private yacht was a listing, bomb-damaged hulk adrift in the Shatt al Arab waterway yesterday, a worthy metaphor for his grip on power in Iraq.
Leaning heavily to port, the 350ft Al Mansur — The Victor — was being carried by the tide around the main dock of Basra surrounded by an ugly diesel oil slick.
The Iraqi flag was hanging limp and torn at the stern.
The German-made vessel was a shadow of its once-glamorous past as it drifted in view of crowds of looters who were waiting for it to beach on a sandbank so that the serious business of stripping it bare could begin.
“It was so beautiful when it came up the Shatt Al Arab, it looked like a big, white bird,” Ta’ad Al Taher, a local dockworker, said. “Now look at it. Is it really the same boat'”
Locals said it had been hit by 16 allied bombs over the last two weeks. There were pockmarks from shrapnel from bow to stern and the main living area was an enormous cavity of burnt wood, twisted metal and torn cables.
Boarding the vessel involved hiring a local fisherman and clambering up a buckled gangplank hanging by a dangerously thin hawser on the unburnt side.
Only a few of its once glamorous fittings had escaped the flames, including an operating theatre on a lower deck, a table tennis table and an enormous wooden eagle, the Iraqi symbol of state.
Some of the original manufacturers’ labels — Schat- Davit, Hamburg — were visible on control panels and door handles.
Locals said the ship had a crew of 120 special members of the Republican Guard but there was no sign of them.
Moved from the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr shortly before the war began on March 20, Saddam’s supporters had hoped that the Al Mansur would be safe from allied forces.
It was attacked repeatedly, however, both from the air and with allied naval artillery from Royal Navy ships out in the Gulf.
Given to Saddam by the Saudi royal family back in the 1980s as a gesture of thanks for keeping the fundamentalist threat at bay by fighting the Islamic Republic of Iran, the vessel was reported to have been kept stocked with the finest food and drink in case Saddam decided to use it.