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Friendly Looters Rescue Writer Stalled on the Road to Jordan

June 10, 2003

BAGHDAD — Because of the dangers of traveling in Iraq, most of those leaving here for the Jordanian capital, Amman, start the 600-mile journey just before dawn in convoys of five or more cars to take advantage of daylight.

Although it's safer that way on a highway where even daytime robberies are commonplace, it means leaving Baghdad about 5 a.m., when most of the city is still sleeping. One journalist who made the trip recently missed a few heartbeats when the four-wheel-drive van in which she was traveling broke down in a remote outlying neighborhood only five minutes after starting off. In pitch-black darkness, she realized that calling the police for help certainly was no option.

Even if the phones worked -- and they don't -- the police don't. But it wasn't long before she was rescued -- by a couple of friendly looters on bicycle pedaling their way home after a night's work.

The pair stopped to help repair a fan belt problem, enabling the van to make it to the convoy location, and, hours later, Amman, albeit without lights or wipers.


When Mesbah Police Col. Muaman Salman shouts "Saddam!" it's not for the former leader of Iraq.

It is for one of his young recruits, a rail-thin man who now finds himself the bearer of an embarrassing name.

What's his last name? "Hussein!" Salman jokes to a visiting reporter. "You've found him."

In truth, the 22-year-old policeman said, his last name is Hasseb. His parents named him Saddam because he was born shortly after Hussein became president. At the time, it was politically expedient for parents to call male children Saddam, he said.

"People were deceived at that time," Hasseb said of his parents' decision.

Now when he tells people his name, he gets a lot of insults, some of them half-serious, he said. For that reason, he and many other Saddams are now changing their monikers.

In place of Saddam -- which roughly translates as "he who resists" -- Hasseb would like to be known as Noman. That, however, might also be a problem for a cop. According to Salman, the name derives from the words "red flower."


Although "Saddam" may be on the way out as a name in Iraq, the former dictator still appears to have a future on the Iraqi 250-dinar note. All Iraqi dinar notes carry Hussein's slightly stern visage, but the resumption of paydays for civil servants coupled with the new flow of imports into the country mean that there isn't enough money around to keep the wheels of the economy oiled.

Because the new money is needed so quickly and there's no time to redesign the currency, the occupation authorities find themselves in the uncomfortable position of allowing the first money for a new Iraq to be graced with none other than the erstwhile dictator.

"We all know that it shouldn't be there," noted John Sawers, Britain's top civilian representative in the occupation authority. "But to get things going, we have to take this step. We have to stabilize the currency."

The bills would feature the Iraqi dictator until new notes could be designed and printed, Sawers said.


With United Nations sanctions lifted, a wide variety of relief groups are moving in to help rebuild Iraq. For one of these nongovernmental organizations, however, the relief isn't food or medical. It's comic.

A group of five clowns from the group Clowns Without Borders has been playing to packed audiences and a lot of laughter in Baghdad's hospitals, orphanages, schools and refugee camps. Born of the agony of war in the Balkans a decade ago, the group has traveled to Latin America, Africa and the West Bank to make people smile.

The five Spanish clowns have performed at two teaching hospitals, an emergency hospital and an orphanage in the two weeks since their arrival. Their live show usually lasts a good hour, yet here in Iraq they have performed for as long as 3 1/2 hours at hospitals -- in the rooms, hallways and outside in the street.

Anioba Jabar, manager of the Al Najat Orphanage, praised their performance.

"The kids really loved them and did not want them to leave," she said. "There should be more activities like that in the future."


The American occupation authority in Iraq continues to face a flurry of challenges, not the least of which is how to refer to itself. Originally termed the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, or ORHA, the administration was renamed last week as the Coalition Provisional Authority, or CPA.

The discarded-but-pleasant-sounding ORHA was established before the war, and focused on policies in its immediate aftermath. The new CPA is supposed to reflect the next phase of America's occupation of Iraq, according to a senior CPA official.

Perhaps one of the tasks in that next phase will be finding a local dry cleaner. Currently, the administration's staff ships off much of its dry cleaning to a hotel in Kuwait, though basic laundry is finally being done in Baghdad.

"It's very easy now to say this is nuts, but in the early days after the war it made sense," a CPA official said.

Times staff writers Carol J. Williams, John Daniszewski and Azadeh Moaveni and Mohamed Fahmy of The Times' Baghdad Bureau contributed to this report.

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