August 08, 2022
Big Shot
Amid the Palaces of Baghdad

A photographer considers the world Saddam Hussein left behind

By Cynthia Roelle

“It was a great job–I loved it,” Cynthia Roelle says of her year near Baghdad as an Army lawyer.

Confined for safety reasons to Camp Victory, the U.S. military headquarters built atop Saddam Hussein’s ruined suburban vacation retreat, life could get a little, well, dull.

So Cynthia, who studied art for a few years at Penn State before earning a law degree and joining the Army in part to have a career that tandemned with her Air Force officer husband’s, picked up her camera.

“There is only so much to see, and even less to do, when confined to an area of only a few square miles,” she wrote. “Week after week, I haunted the same places and palaces, carrying my camera and a sense of obligation to chronicle my experience and reveal all that I saw.”

She took more than 4,000 photographs during her September 2005 to September 2006 tour.

Many of the images featured here are from the grounds of Camp Victory, also the former headquarters of Saddam’s Ba’ath Party.

Bombed by Allied forces, the eight palaces on the grounds lay in ruins. Cynthia concluded that much of what Saddam had constructed, though sumptuous-looking from afar, was “merely a facade.”

“Saddam’s crystal chandeliers, up close, were really made of plastic; the ceilings were plaster of Paris,”? she said.

She left wondering if she’d seen enough.

“Although my subjects were neither soldiers nor insurgents, neither Americans nor Iraqis,” she wrote, “the devastation tells its own story in the context of two disconnected cultures, and their place in time and history.” — The Editors

Cynthia Roelle is a Honolulu, Hawaii-based attorney and photojournalist.

3 comments about “Amid the Palaces of Baghdad”

  1. Melissa says:

    I think Cynthia has brought an eerie sense of ‘beauty’ to this place through her black and white imagery.

  2. Srinidhi says:

    Fantastic pictures… would have helped if there was some real reflections of the author/ photographer.

  3. Jose says:

    Good insightful and interesting pictures within the compound and around Bahdag bringing non-war material to this much ugly war.

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