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The dapper despot

April 09, 2006|MICHAEL NEWMAN

Say this about Saddam Hussein: The man still knows how to dress. He won notice last week in court for his "signature black suit over a dark sweater and white shirt buttoned up to his neck," as The Times described it, "the conservative style of middle-class Arab merchants." It was a savvy move politically and sartorially, and there should never really have been any doubt that he could pull it off. As these photographs show, Hussein's audacity extends to his wardrobe.

As a ruthless dictator, he was as comfortable in army fatigues as in a Tom Wolfe-style white suit, and he was willing to put just about anything on his head. Whether relaxing at home with a phonograph or posing with his horse, he exudes an easy confidence. Even if the record's not Beethoven and the horse isn't his -- the point is, they could be. Now that he is on trial for crimes against humanity, he dons a sensible suit and unpretentious glasses, the ideal uniform to project modesty and simplicity.

Viewed together, these pictures tell the story of a man who, once upon a time, was better than the average Iraqi. No longer. He's just another middle-class Arab merchant fighting the system.

There is, of course, one famous photograph that breaks though Hussein's carefully managed self-image. Only when he is having his molars checked, just hours after being captured from his hideout in December 2003, does he appear unprepared for the camera.

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-- MICHAEL NEWMAN

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