Such heavy-handed efforts to link Hussein's dictatorship with Iraq's past is one of the most striking themes of his self-aggrandizement. He tries to line up not only with the most ancient of rulers, but also with more recent ones who until just a year ago were viewed as corrupt pawns of foreign powers.
Last year, he rehabilitated Faisal I, who led the Arab Revolt against Turkish rule in World War I. Faisal had been promised rule over Syria by his British allies but was betrayed and given Iraq as a consolation prize. Last year, Hussein renovated Faisal's tomb, along with those of other members of the royal Hashemite family, and he restored an equestrian statue of Faisal to a Baghdad square.
The Hashemites were overthrown in a bloody coup in 1958.
Hussein has not stopped at just reviving the Hashemites' dignity; he has decided to join them, in a way. Conveniently, a family tree has been discovered in the southern town of Kerbala that purports to show that Hussein, just like the deposed monarchy, is related to the Prophet Mohammed.
Even Jordan's King Hussein, a Hashemite but no kin to Saddam Hussein, has started calling the Iraqi leader "cousin."
Saddam Hussein makes much of his tenuous contact with another Arab hero--Saladin, the Medieval nemesis of the Crusaders. Both came from the same village, Tikrit, north of Baghdad.
No ruler in ancient Mesopotamia is beyond association with Hussein. In the basement of the Martyr's Monument, a massive Baghdad shrine to the Persian Gulf War dead in the form of a split Oriental dome, a new exhibit traces Hussein's life in photos. There's the wattle hut where he was born, photos of him as a jug-eared schoolboy who got high marks in school in singing and history, of a gangly teen with only a hint of the mustache that would flourish later in life, of an underground revolutionary who tried to kill a prime minister and fled into exile, of a hunted nationalist exile in a variety of disguises, of a smiling leader with wife and baby.
Punctuating this epic biography is a photo of what appears to be a relief of the type that originated at Babylon. On the right is a gowned figure of Hammurabi, who ruled 4,000 years ago and earned eternal fame for devising the world's first code of law. He is handing a copy to--who else?--Saddam Hussein, who is wearing a suit and tie for the occasion.