Saddam Hussein could survive for at least a year in the luxurious surroundings of his underground bunker, according to the German planners of the complex beneath the Iraqi president's destroyed palace.
Saddam's bunker, to which he is believed to have escaped before his palace was destroyed by allied bombing, lies 15 feet below ground and consists of 11 rooms. U.S. intelligence officials believe that the Iraqi leader is now moving about the country.Aside from bedrooms for the president, his family and his bodyguards, the underground complex includes chandeliers, a private mosque, a war room in which the chairs are equipped with seat belts, and a German-designed air-collection and filtering system.
Washington Post correspondent Glenn Frankel reported from London that Saddam's bunker is part of a vast network of "super bunkers" designed and built by Western companies that are protecting Iraq's air force and much of its most sophisticated weaponry, including chemical weapons, according to allied military officials and defense analysts based in the British capital.
These sources agree that the underground sites are proving far harder to destroy than allied war planners had originally predicted and that some of the weapons being used against them are proving ineffective.
For example, Saddam's private bunker was built "to withstand conventional arms and missile attacks for an unlimited period of time," according to Georg Niedermeier, a director of Walter-Thosti-Boswau, the construction firm that bought out Boswau and Knauer, the company that built the bunker.
Drinking from a self-cleaning water supply, eating from stores of groceries expected to last at least a year, sleeping in a huge bed protected by a reinforced, five-foot-thick concrete wall, Saddam could live and work below the palace guest house despite constant bombing, said Niedermeier.
Boswau and Knauer designed the bunker and supervised its $65 million construction in 1981 and 1982.
"Of course, this was in the high phase of the Iran-Iraq war, and the whole West, including the United States, supported Saddam Hussein against the evil archenemy, Ayatollah (Ruhollah) Khomeini," Niedermeier said, referring to Iran's former religious leader. "Why would anyone have objected then? Who could have known that it would help Saddam defend himself against the West today?"
Several German publications, writing about the German contribution to Saddam's security with a mixture of outrage and sensationalism, have reported that the bunker could withstand a nuclear bomb blast.
But there is no evidence that Boswau and Knauer was able to fulfill that aim, Niedermeier said. Niedermeier's company did not retain the Boswau-Knauer employees who worked on the bunker, he told the Associated Press in a separate interview.
The bunker also includes a swimming pool heated to 72 degrees, wood-paneled walls and a television studio, and was built to withstand temperatures up to 572 degrees.
It was "very luxuriously furnished" by one of Germany's most posh interior design firms, Niedermeier said. The furniture includes period French works and delicate chandeliers.
According to plans and photos obtained by two German magazines, Bunte and Quick, the bathroom is decorated with turquoise tiles and includes a toilet equipped with a closed-circuit, self-disinfecting water supply meant to protect Saddam from the public water supply if it was poisoned by radiation or chemical attack.
The 19,300-square-foot complex is reached by two elevators that lead to a four-ton, steel-reinforced concrete door. As many as 50 people can live in the bunker, according to plans obtained by Bunte.
Because the Iraqis considered the bunker a secret, the German firm referred to its work only as "Project 305." The blueprints of the bunker remained in Baghdad after construction was completed, Niedermeier said. He said the architect of the bunker died two years ago.
Among other fortified installations scattered around Iraq are some 300 hardened airplane hangars buried in huge piles of sand, both to camouflage them and provide protection. The hangars, which are built far beyond NATO specifications, include steel-reinforced roofs covered with four feet of reinforced concrete and twin sliding doors that weigh 40 tons each and are nearly two feet thick, according to a report by BBC-TV's Newsnight program.
Between the doors and the floor is a water trap to foil incendiary attacks, and 120 feet in front is a two-foot thick concrete blast wall. The hangars, which can hold one or more planes, were designed by British engineers and built by Belgian and Yugoslavian construction firms in a multibillion-dollar contract with Iraq's defense ministry, according to the Newsnight report.
The hangars pose major problems for allied bombers, analysts confirmed.
Their laser-guided weapons lack the ability to zero in on the doors, which are obscured by the blast wall. Many of the U.S.-made bombs are wrapped in a cast-metal casing that shatters when it hits the reinforced doors so that the bombs would not blast through even if fired accurately, the analysts said.