Uri Friedman: Do Graves of Dictators Really Become Shrines?

Uri Friedman is an associate editor at Foreign Policy.

On Tuesday, Libyan officials laid Muammar al-Qaddafi to rest in a secret, unmarked desert grave to prevent his burial place from becoming a shrine for his supporters or a target for his opponents. The drainage pipes outside Sirte where Qaddafi was captured and the cold storage facility in Misrata where his corpse was temporarily stored, pictured above, have already become major attractions for Libyans. Back in May, U.S. officials cited concerns about creating a shrine as the reason why they committed Osama bin Laden's body to the sea.

This fear of establishing shrines for reviled figures has a long history; the English ruler Oliver Cromwell, for example, was posthumously hanged in the 17th century and his head wasn't laid to rest until 1960. But the concern over Qaddafi's final resting place had us wondering: Do the burial places of controversial leaders really become shrines? In short, yes. But some of the stories -- from evil spirits to dismembered hands -- are almost too bizarre to be believed. Here's a brief history of contentious burials, from Hussein to Hitler.


The former Iraqi leader, who was found hiding in a hole near Tikrit in 2003, was hanged three years later at a U.S. military base outside Baghdad after being convicted of crimes against humanity. As in the case of Qaddafi's death, gruesome cell phone footage of Hussein's corpse soon made its way online. Iraqi officials initially wanted to bury Hussein in a secret, unmarked grave. But the country's new leaders ultimately permitted Hussein's body to be buried in his hometown of Awja, after local politicians from nearby Tikrit and the head of Hussein's tribe pleaded with them to do so. Hundreds of Iraqis attended a funeral for Hussein, who was buried 24 hours after his execution...

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