Archive for Wednesday, April 9, 2003

Spokesman puts face on disappearing regime

April 9, 2003

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— The television pictures of U.S. tanks in Baghdad seemed undeniable, but Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's spokesman denied them anyway -- with his usual flair for insult.

"There is no presence of American infidels in the city of Baghdad," Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf asserted outside Baghdad's Palestine Hotel on Monday.

A day later, when the hotel came under U.S. tank fire, the Iraqi information minister had to admit to the journalists staying there that coalition forces were in the capital. But, smiling, he made it sound like it was all part of Iraq's plan:

"We blocked them inside the city. Their rear is blocked," he said in hurried remarks that were a departure from his daily news conference.

Across the region, Arabs hoping for victory over the United States -- hated for its support of Israel and portrayed as attacking Iraq only for its oil -- embrace al-Sahhaf's version. And even when they can't believe what he is saying, they like the way he says it.

They get a kick out of the way he ridicules President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair in daily news conferences, broadcast live. Some call it the "al-Sahhaf show."

His enemies are never just the Americans or the British. They are "outlaws," "war criminals," "fools," "stooges" and "international gang of villains."

Al-Sahhaf has singled out Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, describing him as a "crook" and "the most despicable creature."

Viewers don't "pause at what he (al-Sahhaf) says as much as they are eager to listen to his funny words," wrote Faisal Salman, managing editor of the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir, in his daily column.

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