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MTW: Looting of Saddam Hussein’s palaces in Iraq by Paul Russell Parker III

I’m thrilled to share an article by Paul Russell Parker III, MysteryThrillerWeek author of All In: The Globe Trot Shuffle, about his tour of duty in Iraq and the devastating looting he witnessed of museums, government buildings and Saddam Hussein’s palaces.

As Paul writes, ‘One of the greatest losses a society can face is the loss of it’s past… Ancient ruins belong to all of humanity, and are visual testimony to the world that we come from somewhere and are continuing that long and storied journey.’

Looting of Saddam Hussein’s palaces in Iraq

By Paul Russell Parker III

Iraq is a beautiful and memorizing place.  It is rich in culture and history.  It’s Mesopotamia, the birth place of civilization. So, it’s heart wrenching to see all the conflict that’s been happening there since man decided to stop gathering and started to till the land.  The city-state kingdoms that have called the fertile crescent area of Iraq home; since time immemorable, have been conquered over and over.  One of the greatest tragedies inflicted on civilization was the sacking of Baghdad by the Mongols.  The rivers coursing through Baghdad ran black with ink from all the books thrown into it. The treasure that was the House of Wisdom in Baghdad was lost to us, and countless important works disappeared forever.

One of the greatest losses a society can face is the loss of it’s past. Its relics and artifacts tell the story of a people long gone.  Ancient ruins belong to all of humanity, and are visual testimony to the world that we come from somewhere and are continuing that long and storied journey.

I have witnessed the tragic beauty of Iraq in person.  A place so historic is also a place of untold suffering.  The people are under siege and their history is being wiped off the map.  World history is at risk.  I’ve stood on the banks of an oasis on Al Asad Air Base in Anbar Province.  A stone marker in English and Arabic commemorated the spot called Abraham’s Well.  It was there, Abraham from the bible stopped to refresh himself on his travel to Canaan.  That was in early 2008 while I was a civilian working on a contract for the Department of Defense.  With the current state of affairs happening now and the attack on ancient monuments, I wonder if that stone marker still stands.  Will anyone know that Abraham ever stopped there?

I was in Iraq even earlier than 2008.  The first time I stepped foot in the country was on March 21, 2003.  I was a Lance Corporal in the United States Marine Corps, part of the 1st Marine Division. I was unprepared for what happened next.  We, the 1st Marine Division Forward, fought our way up to Baghdad, but didn’t stop there.  We made it all the way up to Tikrit, which was Saddam’s hometown.  Along the way, we fought the enemy, but also had to deal with the humanity aspect of modern combat.  Basic services stopped, and the local populace was suffering.  We had to alleviate the suffering while trying to topple the regime.

Once we got to Baghdad, we ran into a problem we weren’t trained for.  Looting was occurring on a massive scale.  People carried, dragged, or carted away anything that they could get their hands on.  Stores, houses, government buildings, banks, and all manner of buildings were being emptied.  What were we to do?  Old women were carrying items from government warehouses, items that were withheld from them by the regime.  Were we to confiscate anything?  When we asked our superiors, we were told that the people were just getting their sh*t back that the government stole from them in the first place.  So, we stood to the side while on patrols and watched.

We were told that museums were being looted and it was a punch in the gut for us.  We didn’t know that caretakers were hiding items at that time.  All I could think of was the items that were going to be lost to the public forever.  Assyrian, Chaldean, Babylonian…  What evidence of our past was being erased?

Looting took another twist.  When my unit reformed into a new unit called Task Force Tripoli, we fought our way north to Tikrit and we were in for a surprise.  We took over Saddam’s new palace complex in his home town.  Palaces, mansions, and villas were filled with extravagant works of art.  Many of the places were looted by the local populace or emptied by the fleeing regime family members before we got there.  The art and decorations that were left astounded us.  To see so much opulence in that palace complex in a country where so many people are oppressed bothered us.  Saddam stole the countries past, and tried to make it his own.  The evidence was everywhere.  One of the grandest murals I’ve ever seen was a scene depicting Nebuchadnezzar and his forces transitioning to Saddam and his forces.  Hammurabi, he was not.

With so much personal time and experience in Iraq, I decided to incorporate what I’ve seen into my books.  My characters in All In:  The Globe Trot Shuffle, experience my trials and my tribulations as US Marines during the 2003 Invasion of Iraq.  They witness the looting of Baghdad that I saw firsthand while partaking in their own kind of trophy hunting for military gear on military bases that I did. They experience the same anger at viewing the extravagant palace complex in Tikrit. Everything that I went through, my characters went through. From driving around highways in Kuwait with fully loaded weapons in 2003, to being contractors on military forward operating bases in 2008. My protagonist sees the same city lights from the rooftops of combat outposts that I saw when I worked there as a contractor.  They interact with hotel workers in Kuwait like I did. By utilizing my experiences, readers will enjoy the most realistic depiction of our military in Iraq that they ever will read in a fiction.

All In: The Globe Trot Shuffle

All In: The Globe Trot Shuffle, takes place all over the world. It’s set in several countries, and even on the high seas. The first half of the story takes place all over Iraq, from Diwaniyah to Tikrit.

You see the characters in the military or as civilian contractor’s years later. They’re on FOB’s or sleeping in holes. Then it moves to Kuwait. You get to see a border crossing station, and a swanky 5-star hotel. The characters then move onto a container ship that’s traveling from Kuwait to South America. You get to see how life on a ship transiting pirate infested waters around the Horn of Africa, is.

The characters make landfall in Guyana, and explore hotels and bars. From the port in South America, they travel the Caribbean on a private yacht to Roseau and Portsmouth, Dominica.

The story is about four US Marines who make an amazing discovery in a mansion during the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. This discovery will force them to cross a line that there’s no turning back from. The line between good guys and bad guys are now blurred.

The group soon finds that making their dreams come true isn’t as easy as flying home and making a deposit. They need to safeguard their discovery during a shooting war, and keep it hidden from locals as well as their fellow Marines. They decide to stash it for the lack of a better idea.

Years later, the group of Marines are now civilians working in Iraq on a contract to the military. They must find their way past Iraqi Police checkpoints as well as insurgents to secure their discovery. After that, they must get home to make good on it. The only way to do that while carrying something highly illegal is to travel as low key as possible. They embark on a dangerous journey with Bedouins, on a shipping container ship, and on private boats to see their plan to the very end.

About the Author

Paul Russell Parker III is married, and is a father. He was born in southern California, and now lives on the North Carolina Crystal Coast. He enjoys spending time outdoors with his family, especially during the summer when they can go to the beaches of the Southern Outer Banks. He is a Veteran of the United States Marine Corps, and Operation Iraqi Freedom 1.

After the military, he earned his Associate’s degree from Coastal Carolina Community College, and his Bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Since then he’s traveled all over the world, and has had a wide variety of jobs. Including working as a commercial and military satellite technician on defense industry contracts to the Department of Defense in Qatar, Oman, and Iraq. To learn more about Paul and his books, visit his website.


Do you love to read art-related mysteries and thrillers? All In: The Globe Trot Shuffle is one of 20+ novels in MysteryThrillerWeek’s Art-Related Mysteries and Thrillers Theme. Click here to see more of these exiting MTW titles.

Don’t forget to check back here on January 19th for the third MysteryThrillerWeek Theme post, this time about Historical Mysteries and Thrillers by MTW authors.


Jennifer S. Alderson

Hello! I am the author of the Travel Can Be Murder Cozy Mystery series, the Zelda Richardson Art Mystery series, and Adventures in Backpacking novels. I love to write and blog about travel, art, museums, expat life, and great books. Thanks for stopping by!

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. Catherine Dilts

    Thank you for your service, Paul. I definitely want to read your book!

  2. Marie Silk

    Wow, what great insight! Paul Russell Parker III has so much to offer the literary world on this subject! Wonderful post!

    1. Paul Russell Parker III

      Thanks Marie! It was a historic time, and I’m glad to add my own insight to it.

  3. Jude Roy

    Writing from experience is a wonderful way to add credibility to your writing. Looking forward to reading All in: The Globe Trot Shuffle.

    1. Paul Russell Parker III

      Thanks Jude. I thought it’d make a great story as I saw events playing out. Also, it’s not your typical setting for a financial heist story. I just hope people will enjoy the story.

  4. Paul Russell Parker III

    Jennifer, thanks for letting me post about what I witnessed and how I incorporated it into my book. It was a different kind of experience. I can still remember pulling into the New Palace Complex in Tikrit, Iraq. The place was like nothing I ever could have imagined. Marble, golden fixtures, and elegant house decor… Well, what was left of art and decorations that weren’t already looted by the local populace or carried off by the former regime.

    It was a stark contrast to the rest of the country. We walked through the buildings on the complex and felt utter disgust when remembering the poor children dressed in rags in the Shia areas of southern Iraq.

    I was able to incorporate my contractor experience of how it was to be in Iraq from 2007 to 2009 during the sectarian violence, into my book. I convoyed or took helicopter rides all over Iraq to install internet cafes for the troops. From palaces taken over by the coalition to small residential buildings in the middle of a city housing Surge troops.

    My character lives my experience and makes friends with a local interpreter hired by the US Military. In their interactions, you detect a feeling of despair for the current state of life in Iraq, but there’s also an underlying sense of hope that’s ever prevalent, despite all the violence. A hope that one day the insurgencies would end, and life would go back to normal.

    1. Jennifer S. Alderson

      Paul, thank you for allowing me to post this wonderful article about your experiences on my blog. I’m extremely pleased to see so many readers reacting so positively to your post and book. Well deserved!

  5. Vicki Goodwin

    What a great personal story and the to top it off what a great setting and plot for a book. I am anxious to read this. It sounds wonderful, exciting and thrilling!

    1. Jennifer S. Alderson

      I agree with you completely, Vicki Goodwin! Paul Russell Parker III has witnessed events most of us have only heard about on the news and been to places most of us never will visit. This article makes me want to read his book!

    2. Paul Russell Parker III

      Thanks Vicki, I hope you enjoy the story. I decided to write about what could have happened if someone in my situation found ill gotten loot in a palace. A lot of coalition forces did find things, and the majority turned it in. Gold, currency, rich works of art. A small handful didn’t though. Some coalition troops were caught with currency, and I wondered what could have been done differently in order to not get caught.

      There’s a scene in the book where my characters witnesses a caretaker on the palace complex in Tikrit beating a looter to death to keep him out of a building. In real life, I sat at a machine gun nest watching a caretaker beat a man with a baton at the same building I wrote about. He only hit the guy a few times and the guy was able to get up and run off, but that experience always stuck with me. It was the perfect scene for the start of the intrigue in my book.

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