[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
LANGUAGES
arabic
persian
pashto
turkish
french
Last Updated: Saturday, 5 April, 2003, 08:25 GMT 09:25 UK
Saddam walkabout mystery
By Ray Furlong
BBC diplomatic correspondent

He strolls at first barely noticed beside a dusty Baghdad highway.

Then, when passers-by realise who he is, a cheering crowd forms.

Saddam Hussein
The people rushed to surround him, each trying to hail his courage, steadfastness, and patience in confronting the forces of shame and evil
Iraq satellite TV station

Bodyguards hold people back as chanting supporters hold guns in the air.

Others come forward to kiss his hand, and eventually a small girl is passed to him.

But do the sensational pictures from Iraqi TV really show Saddam Hussein, or just one of his alleged doubles?

He seems to wander the streets with very light security for a man on a Pentagon hit-list.

On the other hand he is accompanied by senior officials and, when asked, some Iraqis said they believed it was Saddam - no-one else, apparently, walks quite like him.

Regardless of whether this is really him, the pictures are an important part of the propaganda battle.

For the target audience in Arab countries, they show a popular wartime leader among his people - countering the Western image of a shadowy figure in his bunker, hiding from coalition bombs.

"The people rushed to surround him, each trying to hail his courage, steadfastness, and patience in confronting the forces of shame and evil, which have now shown their yellow fangs," said Iraq's satellite TV station.

Plumes of smoke rising in the background confirm that these pictures were filmed after the bombing started, although it's not clear precisely when.

If this film were to receive an academy award, it would be for the worst performance by a crowd under duress
Central Command, Qatar

Hours earlier, Iraqi TV also showed Saddam Hussein reading a speech in which he referred to a US Apache helicopter shot down on 24 March - the only clear guide to when the address may have been recorded.

But the timing of the broadcast is perhaps more significant, diverting attention from the news that US forces have captured Baghdad airport.

In any case, the Americans seemed unimpressed. "If this film were to receive an academy award, it would be for the worst performance by a crowd under duress," said a spokesman for Central Command in Qatar.

And in Washington, Pentagon chief spokeswoman Victoria Clarke indicated that finding President Saddam was not the main objective - as long as his regime was toppled.

But this might just be an attempt to lower expectations at home and prepare for a situation in which the Iraqi leader does somehow escape.

The coalition would probably prefer him dead - fearing that if he disappears, like Osama bin Laden, he could also gain him the aura of a hero for radical Islamists across the world.




RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific