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Last Updated: Friday, 27 June, 2003, 09:49 GMT 10:49 UK
Profile: Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf
Mohammed Saeed Sahhaf
Sahhaf: A Shia Muslim outside Saddam Hussein's Sunni clique
Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf became a familiar face in homes around the world from the start of the war.

As information minister, he was the regime's mouthpiece, called on to give an upbeat assessment of events at the same time the world's media showed the noose tightening around Baghdad.

His daily televised briefings caused amusement and confusion to journalists and audiences across the world because of his forthright and often skewed view of the conflict.

But the man some called Saddam Hussein's optimist - and the media dubbed Comical Ali - is not considered to have been one of his closest allies.

A Shia Muslim, Mr Sahhaf was an outsider in the Sunni-dominated government that was in power since 1968.

He was one of the few senior Iraqi officials not to come from the area around Saddam Hussein's hometown, Tikrit.

Born in Hilla, near Karbala, south of Baghdad, Mr Sahhaf's rise to a senior government position came relatively late in his career.

Sahhaf's performance as the country's top diplomat was not nearly as good as that of Tariq Aziz
Iraqi official

After studying journalism at university, he planned to become an English teacher, but gave that up when he joined the Baath Party in 1963.

A spell as head of Iraqi broadcasting was followed by stints as ambassador to Burma, Sweden and the UN.

He was made foreign minister in 1992, a post he held until 2001, and which spanned the difficult years of post-Gulf War UN sanctions and the ousting of UN weapons inspectors in 1998.

According to Haidar Ahmad of the opposition Iraqi National Congress, Mr Sahhaf was disliked for his opportunism and gained a reputation as a party lackey.

In his latter years as foreign minister, Mr Sahhaf came in for considerable criticism and was often compared unfavourably to his predecessor, current Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.


Saudi Arabia's Al-Watan newspaper quotes an unnamed high-ranking Iraqi as saying: "Sahhaf's performance as the country's top diplomat was not nearly as good as that of Tariq Aziz."

Uday Hussein
Uday Hussein reportedly forced out Sahhaf as foreign minister

The London-based Al-Quds newspaper said: "He often made speeches that would have been more appropriate for a defence minister or a police commissioner."

At an Arab summit shortly before his removal as foreign minister, there were press comments that he "did not appear to be authorised to make decisions on the spot".

Much speculation surrounded Mr Sahhaf's dismissal as foreign minister in April 2001.

Some observers said that Saddam Hussein's son Uday forced him out after blaming the Iraqi delegation at the summit for failing to secure a joint Arab stand against UN sanctions.

His appointment as information minister gave him an opportunity to exploit his journalistic credentials, something he did with apparently increasing relish throughout the conflict.

There were suggestions his regular appearances showed he was an outsider, considered more expendable than other senior regime officials.

Whatever the truth, the eyes of the world focussed daily on Mr Sahhaf, often finding his assertions increasingly at odds with the apparent reality around him.

A website called We Love the Iraqi Information Minister, carrying his soundbites of the war, has become an internet phenomenon after being set up by a group of New York friends.

Mr Sahhaf was last seen in his post on 8 April, the day before the fall of Baghdad.

He then disappeared from public view, and various rumours circulated that he had died, or was hiding in Iran, or that he was attempting to surrender to US forces in Iraq.

He resurfaced on 26 June in brief interviews on Al-Arabiya and Abu Dhabi TV, but declined to talk about the final days before Baghdad fell.

He said he had surrendered himself to US forces, who had released him after questioning. However, US Central Command would not confirm this.

Mr Sahhaf said he was now planning to write a book.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


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