Saddam is alive, just ask the Iraqis

After Saddam

Some say the deposed leader is still in Baghdad, while others believe he has fled to Syria, Russia or even the US.

NEARLY two weeks after the fall of Baghdad, the United States shows no sign of knowing if Saddam Hussein is alive.

But the consensus among locals here is unanimous: the former Iraqi leader is not only alive, he is also hiding somewhere in the country.

The man who ruled Iraq with an iron fist still casts a shadow over the city, even if the mosaic images of the craggy moustachioed dictator on building walls might have been defaced.

These days, throw a stone and you are likely to hit a Baghdad resident who claims to have seen Saddam.

Mr Naji Mahdi Mohamed, a 62-year-old taxi driver, said that he had seen him twice – during and after the war.

The first time was at a prayer gathering in a local mosque several days after the April 7 US bombing of the Al-Mansur area in west Baghdad, where Saddam and his entourage were supposedly holed up in the house of a former bodyguard.

Mr Naji claims the Iraqi leader shook hands with everybody present at the gathering.

He says that his second Saddam sighting took place in the city centre just last week. Mr Naji said: ‘He was driving a white Toyota Land Cruiser. He smiled and waved at me.’

Asked if the person could have been one of Saddam’s famous body doubles, the taxi driver replied: ‘There is only one Saddam in Iraq. Iraqis can tell whether he is real or fake.’

While most Iraqis interviewed by The Straits Times believe that Saddam is alive, they are divided on where he is now.

Some argue that he is still in Baghdad, either in Al-Mansur or in Adhamiya in central Baghdad. Adhamiya was where Saddam was purportedly caught on video tape on April 9, the day Baghdad fell to the US Marines. On the tape, Saddam was surrounded by cheering supporters.

Just on Monday, Mr Ahmed Chalabi, a key opposition leader who heads the Iraqi National Congress, said that intelligence indicated that Saddam and his sons were still moving around in the capital. But other Iraqis believe that Saddam, who in the past was secretive about his movements, would not want to risk remaining in Baghdad.

They think he is hiding in one of his many secret underground bunkers in the country, or have run off to his hometown of Tikrit or is living in the towns of Al-Tarmya or Ramadi, just outside the capital.

Lawyer Salim Hammody Al-Tai, 51, said: ‘He could be in a million places which makes it impossible for anyone to know where he is. Saddam is a very smart man. So, the Americans should not underestimate him.’

Building contractor Mufaid Hassan Al-Safar, 42, said that many Iraqis would be more than willing to let him stay with them. ‘How can we say no to a man who has ruled us for more than 30 years. For many, it will be an honour.’

That might not be entirely true. Some Iraqis are convinced that Saddam signed a ‘devil’s pact’ with the US – that he won his freedom by giving up Iraq.

Odd-job labourer Karim Wali Al-Saraji, 31, said: ‘Saddam is not dead. He saved his skin by selling us to the Americans. He realised that the army was no match for the Americans. He gave up and ran far away.’

He believes that Saddam is hiding either in Syria, Russia or even in the US.

Another man who shares this view is Mr Hamid Rashid, a silver-bearded man in his 50s. Speaking from the Ibn Bunnieh Mosque in west Baghdad, he said that he had seen Saddam at the mosque on April 8. ‘This is all a game and the Iraqis are big losers.’

Mr Saad Mohamed Al-Mousawi, a member of the Baghdad Chamber of Commerce, has this to say about the latest parlour game in Baghdad: ‘No one is ever going to know what happened to Saddam. There will be a lot of theories.

‘But like Osama bin Laden, Saddam will disappear into thin air, making an appearance every month in some video clip to confuse all of us.’

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