has 'baghdad bob' been captured?,

  1. 5,748 Posts.
    Jun. 27, 2003
    Has 'Baghdad Bob' been captured?,
    By Mark A. Heller

    According to unconfirmed reports in the British press, American forces in Iraq this week captured Muhammad Said as-Sahhaf, the former Iraqi information minister. Only a few short months ago Sahhaf was an international media star, but since fame is fleeting it might be worthwhile recalling who he is or was.

    While war raged in Iraq Sahhaf was the ubiquitous voice and face of Saddam Hussein's regime. During that time, he gained a reputation as an incurable optimist refuting all reports of allied progress and insisting that Iraq's valiant forces would defeat the Americans and their British stooges, burn them in their vehicles, and slaughter them in their thousands. This went on right up to the day American tanks rolled into Baghdad, when he just disappeared.

    Sahhaf's wartime performance gave new meaning to the term "divorced from reality." But he did provide a much-needed touch of comic relief and made such a strong impression with his eloquence and ebullience that President Bush was even heard to declare, "He's my man."
    For his antics, Sahhaf gained a variety of nicknames: Baghdad Bob, Comical Ali, or just plain MSS. He was not a major player in Saddam's power elite and was not included in the American deck of "Most Wanted" playing cards, not even as the joker.

    But his imprint was so strong that he continues to be celebrated as the embodiment of denial as an art form and to be lionized by a host of comedians, webmasters, and manufacturers of kitschy memorabilia.

    Since the fall of Baghdad, MSS has been missing and sorely missed. So if the reports of his capture are true, this is good news, because there are lots of other opportunities to put his considerable talents to good use.

    CONSIDER THE host of Middle-Eastern claims and predictions that have been put forward by a variety of less persuasive spokesmen in recent weeks:

    The Iranian nuclear development program is solely for peaceful purposes; the Israeli government is determined to put an end to "unauthorized" settlements; the Labor Party is on the road to recovery; Syria and Saudi Arabia are on the road to reform; Lebanon and the Egyptian judiciary are on the road to independence; the European Union has a rapid intervention force as well as a plan to resolve the Israeli-Syrian conflict; Hamas has accepted the idea of peace based on two states; the road map is off to a good start; a cease-fire is imminent the list is almost endless.
    Most of these statements are issued in the spirit of MSS, but they lack the ring of authenticity that only he can provide. As a result they fail to elicit the response they truly deserve which is to turn to the sports pages.

    The problem is that most other spokesmen look like second-rate imitators of the real thing. So if the Americans have got their hands on the real thing, they ought to do two things. The first is to interrogate MSS thoroughly about what he knows. At best, he can teach government spokesmen how to relate properly to reporters, and vice versa. At worst, he can explain how a former English teacher gets a high-paying job.

    And after that, in keeping with their commitment to free enterprise, the Americans should let MSS go back to work.

    Of course, one man couldn't possibly work for all those governments at the same time. But he could set up a consulting business and share his expertise in truth-telling, a regional growth market that makes the prospects in Iraqi reconstruction pale by comparison.

    So if the reports of his capture are indeed accurate, I simply want to say: "Welcome back, MSS and let me know if you need a partner."

    The writer is principal research associate at Tel Aviv University's Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies.

arrow-down-2 Created with Sketch. arrow-down-2 Created with Sketch.