It was etched in the blood of a dictator in a ghoulish bid for piety. Over the course of two painstaking years in the late 1990s, Saddam Hussein had sat regularly with a nurse and an Islamic calligrapher; the former drawing 27 litres of his blood and the latter using it as a macabre ink to transcribe a Qur’an. But since the fall of Baghdad, almost eight years ago, it has stayed largely out of sight – locked away behind three vaulted doors. It is the one part of the ousted tyrant’s legacy that Iraq has simply not known what to do with.
The vault in the vast mosque in Baghdad has remained locked for the past three years, keeping the 114 chapters of the Muslim holy book out of sight – and mind – while those who run Iraq have painstakingly processed the other cultural remnants of 30 years of Saddam and the Ba’ath party.
“What is in here is priceless, worth absolutely millions of dollars,” said Sheikh Ahmed al-Samarrai, head of Iraq’s Sunni Endowment fund, standing near the towering minarets of the west Baghdad mosque that Saddam named “the Mother of All Battles”. Behind him is the infamous Blood Qur’an, written in Saddam’s own blood.
Even to get to this point – the last step before entering the forbidden vault – has been a tortuous process.
On one flank had been the government, doing all it could to prevent access. The Shia-led regime is highly sensitive to the re-emergence of any symbols that might lionise the remnants of the Ba’athist rank and file, which still orchestrates bombings and assassinations every few days.
And then there are the Sunnis themselves, who are fearful of government retribution if they open the doors and of divine disapproval if they treat this particularly gruesome volume of the Qur’an with the reverence of a holy book.
“It was wrong to do what he did, to write it in blood,” says Sheikh Samarrai. “It is haraam [forbidden].”