|IRQ News, 10 December 1997, Web posted at: 04:46 GST, Dubai time (00:46 GMT)|
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) Saddam Hussein has approved the design for what he calls the world's largest mosque, a domed hall capable of holding 30,000 worshipers alongside a huge artificial lake shaped like a map of the Arab world.
Iraqi newspapers carried a picture today of the Iraqi leader and his Cabinet examining plans for the Baghdad mosque to be called the Saddam Grand Mosque.
Saddam proposed the mosque two years ago, when the state-controlled media billed it as the biggest in history.
The largest existing mosque is the King Hassan mosque in Morocco, with a capacity for 18,000 people. However, the holiest Muslim shrine, the Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, can hold up to 1 million people in open and enclosed areas.
Plans for Saddam's mosque call for building a large dome for the main area of prayer enough for 30,000 worshipers decorated with four minarets and an artificial lake, said al-Thawra, newspaper of the ruling Baath party.
It said Saddam had inspected several designs for the mosque before settling on one with a lake shaped like a map of the Arab world.
Iraqi newspapers did not say how much the Saddam Grand Mosque would cost or when construction would start. The plan has been slow to take off because of Iraq's huge financial problems.
The U.N. trade sanctions imposed on Iraq for invading Kuwait in 1990, leading to the Gulf War, have almost ruined the country's economy. Iraq's currency, the dinar, was worth $3 prior to sanctions but nose-dived to about 3,000 to the dollar in 1996.
Iraq's oil-for-food deal with the United Nations and the government's austerity measures to squeeze public spending helped boost the currency, which is now trading at about 1,500 to the dollar.
The mosque will be built on the site of the former al-Muthana Airport, which was bombed heavily by U.S.-allied forces during the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War, al-Thawra and other newspapers said.
Besides the Saddam Grand Mosque, the Iraqi leader has decreed that a grand mosque bearing his name be built in each of Iraq's 18 provinces.
Al-Thawra said the mosques were part of a campaign of faith, Saddam initiated three years ago requiring universities, institutes and schools to devote part of their curriculum to teaching the Islamic religion.