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Hussein's Mouthpiece Is Talking Again

Information minister, who spawned a cult following, says he tried to surrender recently.

June 27, 2003|From Times Wire Services

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The world once listened to his every word, but now he can't even get arrested.

Former Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Said Sahaf earned the nicknames Comical Ali and Baghdad Bob during the Iraq war. He was such a cult figure for his outrageous statements that there is even a Web site in his honor.

On Thursday, he appeared on Arab television saying that he had tried to surrender to U.S. troops but that they weren't interested.

"Via some friends, I went to the Americans ... and there was an interrogation about a number of issues concerning my work," a thin and tired-looking Sahaf said in a clip aired by Dubai-based Al Arabiya. "After the interrogation, I was released....

"A difficult situation has passed by, not for one person but for everyone," he said in measured tones in another clip, referring to the fall of Baghdad to U.S. forces. Al Arabiya said it would air the interview in full Friday.

U.S. military spokesmen were not immediately available for comment.

Sahaf, 63, became an unlikely media star during the war, emerging as a hero to many in the Arab world while Western audiences gasped and then chuckled at his statements.

Sahaf, who was not on Washington's most-wanted list, gained his nicknames for proclaiming the defeat of U.S. forces even as American troops advanced into Baghdad, and for his habit of handling loaded weapons during news conferences.

Sahaf spawned a mini-industry in the West, inspiring T-shirts, mugs, dolls and videos.

He branded the British and U.S. leaders "an international gang of criminal bastards," "blood-sucking bastards," ignorant imperialists and losers.

In the televised interview, Sahaf defended his news briefings during the conflict.

"The information was correct, but the interpretations were not," he said, adding: "I did my duty up to the last minute."

Sahaf may be stunned to find that one of his biggest fans works for the U.S. Army. Col. Guy Shields, a military spokesman in Baghdad, counts Sahaf among his heroes.

"Talk about a guy who can stay on message. If he is alive and can get himself to the United States, he can become a millionaire as a spokesman for whomever," Shields told a news conference.

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