The tomb of Iraq’s late ruler Saddam Hussein has suffered extensive damage in clashes between fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group (ISIL) and Iraqi security forces in a fight for control of the city of Tikrit.
Fighting intensified to the north and south of Hussein’s hometown on Sunday as Iraqi security forces vowed to reach the centre of Tikrit within 48 hours.
Video from the Associated Press news agency from the village of Ouja, just south of Tikrit, shows all that remains of Hussein’s once-lavish tomb are the support columns that held up the roof.
Poster-sized pictures of the late ruler, which once covered the mausoleum, are now nowhere to be seen amid the mountains of concrete rubble.
Instead, Shia militia flags and photos of militia leaders mark the predominantly Sunni village, including that of Major Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the powerful Iranian general advising Iraqi Shia militias on the battlefield.
“This is one of the areas where IS [ISIL] militants massed up the most because Saddam’s grace is here,” said Captain Yasser Nu’ma, an official with the Shia militias, formerly known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces.
“The IS militants’ set an ambush for us by planting bombs around the palace.”
ISIL has controlled Tikrit since June, when it waged its lightening offensive that saw Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, come under their control.
The group claimed in August that the tomb had been completely destroyed, but local officials said it was just ransacked and burned, but suffered only minor damage.
Saddam’s body has been kept in the mausoleum in his birthplace, Ouja, since 2007. The complex featured a marble octagon at the centre of which a bed of fresh flowers covered the place where his body was buried.
Iraqi media reported last year that the body was removed by loyalists amid fears that it would be disturbed in the fighting.