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Tuesday, 15 October, 2002, 11:58 GMT 12:58 UK
Iraq's 'glorious day'
Iraqi youths wear t-shirts with President Saddam Hussein┐s portrait and wave flags and portraits
Lavish shows of loyalty have been staged

He may be public enemy number one in the West, but Saddam Hussein is seeking a "popular" mandate from Iraqis for another seven years in office.


Saddam Hussein is our defender and our tent. This isn't a superficial love.

Khalil Farhan, Iraqi sculptor
The referendum is being called a "glorious day" that will make "the hopes of the Americans burn".

One newspaper describes it as a chance to "put our hearts in the voting boxes to express allegiance to Saddam Hussein".

Iraqi television has been broadcasting special tributes to the man it calls the "master of hearts", as banners across Baghdad urge Iraqis to vote "Yes, Yes, Yes" to Saddam Hussein.

'Profound love'

And there's little doubt that they will. Last time around, Saddam Hussein won 99.96% of the vote.

Iraqi woman takes blood from her arm to mark yes on her voting slip
Some voters used blood to mark their referendum slips

Lavish shows of loyalty have been prepared for what officials are calling the "great march".

"I don't think there's an Iraqi who doesn't love Saddam Hussein," says Khalil Farhan, who has crafted nine giant statues, painted in bronze, as a "referendum" gift.

Saddam Hussein is shown in traditional Arab robes, dressed as a Kurd, as a military man and in a suit with bowler hat, brandishing a rifle - the leader portrayed as all things to all people.

"Saddam Hussein is our defender and our tent," the sculptor insists. "This isn't a superficial love."

Ubiquitous but secretive

It's a "love" learned from an early age in Iraq.

Iraqi painter Mohammed Khaleel displays his latest works
Dissent is not tolerated in Iraq

Every Thursday, every school in government-controlled Iraq holds a weekly display of devotion at which children pledge their allegiance to the flag, and the country's chief flag-bearer, Saddam Hussein.

At the start of class they pray for God to "protect and preserve him".

Saddam Hussein, the secretive leader, is a ubiquitous presence in Baghdad.

His sayings are pinned to the walls of government offices, his picture is in every newspaper, and there's a portrait or statue on almost every street.

As the Americans talk of liberating Iraqis from their leader, his grip on power appears - on the streets of Baghdad - to be as strong as ever.

Public criticism of Saddam Hussein remains unthinkable.

According to a woman shopper: "He's a perfect president."

"He's a great leader," another man said. "Because from the day we were born, he's been with us."

Great survivor

Many Iraqis - like other Arabs - genuinely admire his defiance of the West, and his support for the Palestinians.

Iraqi children on stage
Stage performances honoured Saddam

"I would just like to meet him and kiss his cheeks," said one enthusiastic supporter.

"Because he's the only Arab who says "No" to America and Britain and to imperialism."

For Iraqi officialdom, the vote is another show of defiance against the US President, George W Bush, who has called Saddam Hussein a "homicidal dictator".

At 65, he's still a man said to thrive on crisis but he's also a leader who, after 23 years in power, wants to remain at the helm.

With the survival of his regime at stake, Saddam Hussein last month buckled to the pressure and agreed to let UN weapons inspectors back.

But if a new confrontation comes, Iraqis expect him to fight to the end, rather than step aside.

"Believe me, he will stay here fighting," Iraqi MP, Muzaffar el-Adhami, said.

"President Saddam Hussein will resist when the Americans or any other enemy want to attack or launch an aggression."

But as the Americans threaten to sweep him into the history books, Saddam Hussein - the great survivor - will need all the support he can get.


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15 Oct 02 | Middle East
11 Oct 02 | Middle East
14 Oct 02 | Middle East
14 Oct 02 | Middle East
11 Oct 02 | Americas
04 Oct 02 | Middle East
02 Oct 02 | Americas
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