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Last Updated: Sunday, 27 April, 2003, 10:37 GMT 11:37 UK
Party's over for Saddam
By Kathryn Westcott
BBC News Online

Saddam Hussein will be 66 on 28 April - that is, if he is still alive. Traditionally his birthday has been a day of great celebration, but who knows where, how, or if he will celebrate this year? What is certain, is that it will be unlike the spectacles of previous years.

Saddam Hussein cuts birthday cake in 2000
Saddam Hussein cuts his cake in 2000
It should have been a national holiday, with Saddam Hussein's subjects ordered to celebrate as in years gone by. Instead, many Iraqis will likely be celebrating the downfall of the man who had been one of the world's most resilient leaders.

Elements of 2002's celebrations still resonate today. A year ago, Iraqi state-run media marked the rebirth of Iraq "free and victorious against US-British-Zionist colonialism". How things have changed.

And the statue that became the lasting image of the war when angry Iraqis tore it down, was the president's last birthday present to himself as leader of the country that he held in his grip for 24 years.

There it was in Baghdad last year, a giant Saddam Hussein pointing to Jerusalem, the city he vowed to liberate.

Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad
Saddam Hussein's birthday statue was toppled
In 2002, the Iraqi leader's birthday celebrations coincided with the firming up of plans by the Bush administration to launch a massive military operation to unseat him.

The lavish festivities appeared designed to send a message to the world that Saddam Hussein's people still loved him. International journalists were invited to the party - presumably so they could tell the world that the president still had strong support at home - as were foreign dignitaries.

The celebrations were held, as usual, in the town of Tikrit - a short drive from the small village of Owja where Saddam Hussein was born in 1937.

In the Saddam parade ground, young girls - some dressed in traditional Iraqi costumes, others sporting the bandanas of Palestinian militant groups - paid tribute to their leader. More than 100,000 Iraqis paraded through Tikrit.

The pièce de resistance was an enormous rose-shaped cake with a golden sculpture displaying the Iraqi leader on horseback, surrounded by Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock and jet fighters.

Here I am, Iraq, the land of prophets. We will only bend before God
Evil be to cowards and lackeys. I'm the great leader
You must obey me. Not only that you must love me

It was a gift from the province of Salah Eddin, birthplace of Saledin, the Muslim warrior who defeated the crusaders in Jerusalem and a hero of Saddam Hussein.

The celebrations were described by their organiser as "a symbol of the struggle against America".

Saddam Hussein himself was not present. His usual reluctance to appear in public was likely fuelled by the fact that - with the US making noises about getting rid of him - he was more preoccupied than ever with his own survival.

Debut novel

In Baghdad, the Iraqi National Theatre staged its biggest-ever production in honour of the president. It was a theatrical adaptation of what was purported to be his debut novel - Zubiba and the King, an apparent allegory of the Iraqi leader's confrontation with the evil West.

Crowd in Baghdad
Crowds thronged the Baghdad streets for the Iraqi leader's birthday in 2002
Zubiba and the King includes such exhortations as: "You must obey me. Not only that, you must love me."

Ten years ago, Saddam Hussein celebrated his birthday by parading through Baghdad in a golden chariot drawn by six horses. After that, he turned his attention to building mosques to inaugurate his big day.

They, too, became bigger and better. There was the "Mother of all Battles" mosque celebrating the invasion of Kuwait. But his pet project was the Saddam Mosque, which was to have been the biggest in the world after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

It was to have been completed on his birthday in 2015. There is no doubt that he had a genuine belief that he would still be in charge of Iraq then.

The BBC's Graham Satchell
"Every Iraqi was forced to make a cake on his birthday"


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