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Saddam Hussein's tomb destroyed amid fighting... but his body might not be there

The tomb was levelled during heaving fighting for Tikrit.

Mideast Iraq An Iraqi soldier takes photos of the demolished tomb. Source: AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed

THE TOMB OF Iraq’s late dictator Saddam Hussein was virtually levelled in heavy clashes between militants from the Islamic State group and Iraqi forces in a fight for control of the city of Tikrit.

However, it is unclear if his body is there, or was removed months ago.

Fighting intensified to the north and south of Saddam Hussein’s hometown yesterday as Iraqi security forces vowed to reach the center of Tikrit within 48 hours. Associated Press video from the village of Ouja, just south of Tikrit, shows all that remains of Hussein’s once-lavish tomb are the support columns that held up the roof.

Poster-sized pictures of Saddam, which once covered the mausoleum, are now nowhere to be seen amid the mountains of concrete rubble.

Mideast Iraq Source: AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed

Instead, Shiite militia flags and photos of militia leaders mark the predominantly Sunni village, including that of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the powerful Iranian general advising Iraqi Shiite militias on the battlefield.

“This is one of the areas where IS militants massed the most because Saddam’s grave is here,” said Captain Yasser Nu’ma, an official with the Shiite militias, formerly known as the Popular Mobilization Forces.

The IS militants’ set an ambush for us by planting bombs around.

The extremist Islamic State group has controlled Tikrit since June, when it waged its lightning offensive that saw Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, come under their control.

Recapturing Tikrit, a Sunni bastion on the Tigris River, would pave the way for an assault on Mosul, which United States. officials have said could come as soon as next month.

The Islamic State was helped in its conquest of northern Iraq by Saddam loyalists, including military veterans, who appealed to Sunnis who felt victimized by Baghdad’s Shiite-dominated government.

Mideast Iraq Source: AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed

The group claimed in August that Saddam’s tomb had been completely destroyed, but local officials said it was just ransacked and burned, but suffered only minor damage.

Iraqi media reported last year that Saddam’s body was removed by loyalists amid fears that it would be disturbed in the fighting.

The body’s location is not known.

Saddam was captured by U.S. forces in 2003 and was executed by hanging in December 2006 after an Iraqi special tribunal found him guilty of crimes against humanity for the mass killing of Shiites and Kurds.

His body has been kept in the mausoleum in his birthplace, Ouja, since 2007. The complex featured a marble octagon at the center of which a bed of fresh flowers covered the place where his body was buried. The extravagant chandelier at its center was reminiscent of the extravagant life he led until U.S. forces toppled him in 2003.

Published at 9.04am

Read: British teenagers arrested while travelling ‘to join Islamic State’ >

More: Iraqi troops are throwing everything they’ve got at Islamic State >

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