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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 June, 2003, 21:37 GMT 22:37 UK
'Comical Ali' resurfaces
Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf
Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf as he appeared during the war...
One of the most remarkable figures of the Iraq war has resurfaced for the first time since the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime in April.

Former Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf - dubbed "Comical Ali" for his deadpan insistence that Iraqi forces were crushing the invading Americans - appeared in brief interviews on Al-Arabiya and Abu Dhabi TV on Thursday.

He said that he had surrendered himself to US forces, who had released him after questioning.

US Central Command would not confirm his claim that he had been interrogated and freed.

"We don't have him, and there is no information from our people on the ground to back up these reports," a spokeswoman for Central Command told BBC News Online.

"He is an interesting story teller and we look forward to hearing what he has got to say," she added.

Mr Sahhaf is not on the US list of 55 most wanted Iraqis.


Looking thinner and greyer than three months ago during his daily press briefings, he declined to tell the Arab TV stations about the final days before Baghdad fell.

Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf on Abu Dhabi TV

"The time is not yet ripe to say what happened. When history's ready, then we can talk about it," he said.

He refused to retract his wartime claims that Iraqi forces were "burning the Americans in their tanks", saying only that his reports came from "authentic sources - many authentic sources".

He said the war was "a difficult situation, not for one individual, but for everybody".

He denied being part of Saddam Hussein's inner circle, saying he was a professional doing his job.

And he said he was at work on a book.

His comments were part of a longer interview due to be broadcast on Friday at 1900 GMT, Dubai-based Al-Arabiya TV said in a statement.

Mr Sahhaf's daily press briefings in Baghdad during the war, at which his statements were increasingly at odds with reality, made him a figure of fun in the West.

He was great
George W Bush

He was dubbed "Saddam's optimist" and "Comical Ali" by media commentators, before disappearing as American forces entered central Baghdad.

But he gained a wide following for his way with words; a website devoted to him crashed on launch when it was overloaded by thousands of people per second trying to log on.

Even George W Bush admitted to being something of a fan, telling the US television station NBC that Mr Sahhaf was "great".

Fears for safety

In April, a London-based Arabic newspaper ran a story saying Mr Sahhaf was attempting to surrender to US forces in Iraq.

But Al-Sharq al-Awsat said the Americans were refusing to arrest Mr Sahhaf because he did not appear on their "most wanted" list.

An Iraqi Kurdish official told the newspaper that Mr Sahhaf was staying at his aunt's house in Baghdad, and was under surveillance by US forces.

He said the former minister was still trying to negotiate his arrest, fearing for his safety in the Iraqi capital.

The BBC's Caroline Hawley reports from Baghdad
"He is still insisting he was telling the truth as he knew it"

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