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Sunday, 28 April, 2002, 09:53 GMT 10:53 UK
Iraq celebrates Saddam birthday
Saddam Hussein receiving birthday gift
The Revolutionary Command Council presents its gift

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By Caroline Hawley
BBC correspondent in Baghdad
line

After several days of increasing activity, Saddam Hussein's 65th birthday party celebrations are now in full swing.

The main focus is in his home town, Tikrit, where a giant pink birthday cake has been ceremonially cut.


We will prove to the West that neither America nor the whole world can change our President because he represents the Iraqi will

Student Abdullah Bashir
Saddam Hussein does not attend the celebrations, but a senior Baath party official accepted a golden statue of the 12th century Muslim hero Saladdin on his behalf.

The ruling Baath party daily Ath-Thawra said his birthday was "the day of a new act of allegiance...by which the people defy the enemies of Iraq and the Arab nation".

Iraq's Youth Television station, run by Saddam Hussein's son, Uday, has changed its name to Birthday Television for the occasion.

Celebrations

"The celebrations will be massive," says party loyalist and university student, Abdullah Bashir.

Actors performing dramatisation of Saddam's novel
Iraq's National Theatre stages Saddam's novel
"We will prove to the West that neither America nor the whole world can change our president because he represents the Iraqi will."

In honour of the big birthday, a play based on a novel which Saddam Hussein wrote, Zabiba and the King, has opened in Baghdad to rapturous reviews.

Earlier in the week, more than 500 Iraqi couples were married at a mass wedding in Saddam Hussein's honour.

At Baghdad University, booklets of his speeches in several languages are being handed out to students.

They include his address on the anniversary of the "Mother of All Battles" against a US-led coalition in 1991 and a speech delivered in the following year entitled: "May Iraq's enemies be crushed and evil be their harvest".

Desire for change

New portraits have also been specially painted for the occasion.

"It's a chance to show our love of the president," said 50-year old Muhammad Karim, as he put the final touches to a massive canvas of a grinning Saddam Hussein.

Iraqi couple at the mass wedding ceremony
More than 500 couples were married in a mass ceremony

But after 23 years of Saddam Hussein's rule, one of the very few people in Baghdad who is willing to raise an independent voice told BBC News Online that, while Iraqis do not want an American-imposed regime in Baghdad, they do want change.

"Iraqis would like the current regime to be more open, more tolerant of the opposition, and criticism," said Wamidh Nadhmi, who teaches political science at Baghdad University, and who knew Saddam Hussein in Cairo as a student.

"People should be allowed to express their opinions, we don't need unanimous agreement on every single point," he said.

"But I think people would be very doubtful about the Americans forcibly changing the regime."

Saddam Hussein has controlled Iraq since 1968, and been president since 1979.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Caroline Hawley
"This Baghdad rally was a show of defiance too"
See also:

28 Apr 02 | Middle East
Saddam's special day
24 Apr 02 | Middle East
Iraq's middle class wiped out
23 Apr 02 | Middle East
Business as usual in Iraq
22 Apr 02 | Middle East
Iraq 'moving up anti-aircraft missiles'
19 Apr 02 | Middle East
UN condemns Iraq on human rights
08 Apr 02 | Middle East
Iraq vows to defy Western 'enemy'
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