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A QUIET, TUMULTUOUS RESTING PLACE

Saddam Hussein's burial site draws few visitors because of his legacy and the chaos in the surrounding region.

The grave site has a forlorn, even jumbled air. There are filigreed inscriptions hailing him as a martyr, as a hero of the insurgency and as "the eagle of the Arabs." But alongside these there is the mundane bric-a-brac of his life - a carved wooden eagle hung with his personal prayer beads and a gallery of informal photographs, one showing him with a cigar.

Saddam Hussein's burial place, in his native village, may be the only public space in Iraq where the former ruler, hanged in December at age 69, is openly extolled. Under a government decree, all paintings, photographs and statues of Hussein are forbidden, as are public protests in his support.

But in Awja, Hussein's legend lives on, though only as a pale shadow of what it was. The reception center where he lies has none of the grandeur of the palaces he built during his 24-year rule. The trickle of visitors rarely reaches double figures.

Part of the problem is the danger - in death as in life - that envelops Hussein.

Outside the hall, Hussein's family has buried six others, including his two oldest sons, Uday and Qusay, whose brutishness and greed, unfiltered by the propaganda that made a mythic figure of Hussein, made them among the most hated people in Iraq. Three associates who stood trial with Hussein are there, too.

The scant flow of visitors reflects the chaos that has supplanted the tyranny endured under Hussein. Awja, 100 miles north of Baghdad, is in a fiercely contested zone where American troops are regularly ambushed by insurgents. There is also a continuing fury among Hussein's loyalists at his overthrow, a mood so strong at Awja that outsiders generally stay away.

The grave site, humble as it is, reflects something more than a hometown's determination to honor a fallen son: the refusal of the Sunni minority, who ruled Iraq for centuries until Hussein's overthrow, to reconcile themselves to the assumption of power by the Shiite majority.

Hussein was far from the beloved figure his propagandists depict, even among the people of his home region. People here speak of the ruthless killing that characterized his rule, of Sunnis as well as of his principal victims, Shiites and Kurds.

And they point to the 128-building palace complex Hussein built on a rise above the Tigris. The complex is cited by locals as proof of how Hussein used Iraq's oil wealth to benefit himself, his family and a coterie of loyalists.

"Saddam Hussein led the country into destruction, and in doing so destroyed himself and his family, and led us into the present chaos," said Abdullah Hussein Ejbarah, deputy governor of Salahuddin.

Ejbarah was among the local officials who flew by American helicopter to Baghdad the day of Hussein's hanging and argued against a plan to bury Hussein in a secret grave.

When Hussein's body arrived on Dec. 31, it was buried quickly, to angry protests, in the courtyard of a mosque, then moved to the reception hall built by Hussein as a gift to the village. There, the body lies in a shallow grave beneath the building's rotunda. Covering it are two Iraqi flags of the design used under Hussein, with the words "God is Great" in his handwriting.

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