Back in the 1990s, the late Iraqi dictator spent two years donating blood periodically -- more than 7 gallons altogether -- to serve as ink for the holy book. He apparently considered its 605 pages as a homage and sacrifice to his religion.
It was also a "master stroke of PR," reflecting the lengths the secular leader went to to try to win legitimacy among more religious Muslims, James Denselow, a researcher at King's College in London, told AOL News today.
The so-called Blood Koran has been locked away in a vault under a Baghdad mosque that Saddam named the "Mother of All Battles," complete with four minarets shaped like Kalashnikovs. The mosque has since been renamed "Mother of All Villages," but what's hidden inside is gearing up to be quite a battle for Iraqi officials.
Under Islam, copies of the religion's sacred text cannot be tossed away or destroyed. Outrage flares across the Islamic world at the hint of any such desecration, like when rumors circulated in 2005 that a U.S. prison guard at Guantanamo Bay flushed a Koran down a toilet.
So Iraqi officials have a conundrum: They want to destroy the book, to prevent it from becoming a rallying symbol for some Sunnis who still see Saddam as a martyr. But their religion won't let them.
"It's a poison chalice," Denselow said. "I think they want to bury it, hide it so that it's not a symbol. ... The push to eliminate all aspects of Baathism has been used as a weapon by Shiite political parties."
The dilemma of what to do with the book was reported Sunday by The Guardian, chronicling the long, painstaking bureaucratic process its reporter went through to visit the chamber where the holy book is kept.
"What is in here is priceless, worth absolutely millions of dollars," the Koran's caretaker, Sheikh Ahmed al-Samarrai, who heads Iraq's Sunni Endowment fund, told the paper.
The Blood Koran also points to a larger issue in Iraqi society, about how to deal with Saddam's cultural legacy -- whether to preserve Iraq's history from the Saddam years, or try to erase it altogether.
Some Iraqis are adamant that remnants of the Saddam years -- public art and architecture, for example -- must be purged from Iraq's national landscape, as part of a healing process. Ahmad Chalabi, a leading Shiite politician who returned from exile after Saddam's ouster, said he believes Baathist monuments were "designed to suppress the people."
"This is a clear reminder of the consequences of totalitarianism and idealizing a person that embodies evil," Chalabi told The Guardian. "They have brought nothing to Iraq. They are not worth celebrating. They have nothing aesthetic to offer. I am for removing them."
But others say that not everything built under Saddam must be destroyed or removed from the country.
"He was there and he ruled and he impacted on the world," Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Iraq's former national security adviser, told the newspaper. "But he was a part of our history. He was a bad part of our history, but he made a huge difference, whether we like it or not. We need not bury the legacy of that period. We need to remember it, all what is bad and what is good and learn lessons."
"Iraq's attitude toward recent history will tell you whether it's a state that's inclusive or still suffering from sectarian strife. Iraq's attitude toward understanding its own history will be a litmus test of whether people are politicians or statesmen," he said. "It's still too early to tell."
For now, the Blood Koran sits in its west Baghdad vault. Three separate keys are needed to access it, and they're held by three different people. Iraqis still don't trust one person with all of them. The Guardian reporter, Martin Chulov, was never permitted to see the book.