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Overturned in a river in southern Iraq, the rusted hull of the yacht that once belonged to Saddam Hussein it is a sad reminder of the iron fist of his rule, which ended with the US-led invasion two decades ago.

The 121-metre al-Mansur, a symbol of Saddam’s wealth and power when it was built in the 1980s, is now a sight to see and a destination for fishermen, who climb aboard its hull to drink their tea.

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“When it belonged to the former president, no one could approach it,” said fisherman Hussain Sabahi, who usually ends his day on the river with a cup of tea, which he enjoys sitting on the hull of the yacht.

“I can’t believe this was Saddam’s and now I’m the one walking on it,” he said.

Saddam ordered his yacht, which he never boarded, to leave its mooring in Umm Qasr for Basra, to be safe, a few weeks after start of the US invasion on March 20, 2003.

But the vessel was targeted by US-led forces, and later capsized in the Sat al-Arab Canal and began to break up.

In the turmoil that followed Saddam’s fall, the yacht was ransacked and everything on it – from the chandeliers and furniture to pieces of its metal frame – removed.

The al-Mansur, one of three yachts owned by Saddam, could accommodate up to 200 guests and had a helipad.

US officials estimated in 2003 that Saddam and his family may have amassed as much as $40 billion in ill-gotten gains.

Another of Saddam’s yachts was converted into a hotel in Basra.

Although some Iraqis say the carcass should be preserved, none of the successive governments in power have provided funds for its restoration.

“This yacht is like a precious gem, like a rare masterpiece that you keep in your home,” said Zahi Moussa, a master who works for the Iraqi Ministry of Transport.

“We are saddened that it has come to this situation.”