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WHERE IS "MY MAN" AL-SAHAF HIDING?

5/1/2003

While all the leadership of the disposed Iraqi regime ended up as wanted on playing cards, the only winner amongst them seemed to be the Joker. "Black is white" Information Minister Mohammed al-Sahaf seemed to attract a worldwide following. Web sites telling jokes and selling mugs and t-shirts were said to attract 4000 hits a minute. Even U.S. Marines were fascinated by the man who despite their tanks in the background assured world media that they had been 1) chased from the airport, 2) the troops seen were not in fact Americans, 3) they were encircled by the valiant defenders but, out of compassion, given an open route to escape, 4) their commanders were seeking a face saving way to save their skin, 5) Marines were in fact committing suicide on the "walls of Baghdad" (which has no walls), and 6) he had witnessed all the above with his own eyes. In an interview with Tom Brokaw of NBC, President George W. Bush displayed a sense of humour by saying that he used to break for a glimpse of "my Man" the bespectacled diminutive character who introduced the blatant denial approach to modern media warfare. His straight-faced "shtick" daily routine was even more stunning in the Arabic original. Although those who knew him as Permanent Representative to the U.N. in New York or as a visiting Foreign Minister were not surprised by his sharp language, they were perplexed by his inventive crude terminology. Obviously translating from local slang, he described U.S. or British government officials as "kanader" (shoes), "kileb" (dogs), and the most frequently-used "uluj," a term which sent ordinary Arabs to their dictionary. No one explanation was agreed on the precise meaning -- it could be an animal, an Ottoman mercenary soldier or an arrogant gate crasher.

Before the war, Al-Sahaf' main comic distinction was that he was the only member of the Iraqi Command Council without a mustache. He was also the only Shiite in the mostly Sunni group around the deposed leader.

With incremental arrests after the fall of Baghdad, many wondered where the most visible face during the war vanished. If he realized his growing popularity, he would show up at Random House, replace Geraldo Rivera, or join one of the PR firms in Washington, D.C. But wherever he went, the only means of following the news could be the Arabic service of the BBC. An Iraqi friend of his indicated that he toyed with the idea of giving himself up but suddenly changed his mind. Most likely he has found a way out to his Shiite town of Hilla and from there to the protection of a prominent tribe which traditionally moves freely in and out of the extensive borders. And if he missed the limelight after things quieted down or felt lonely, he can always call the Dixie Chicks.