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Last Updated: Friday, 25 July, 2003, 19:10 GMT 20:10 UK
Parading the dead

By Alexandra Fouché
BBC News Online

Releasing the pictures of dead bodies is never an innocuous gesture, and in the case of Uday and Qusay Hussein it has generated huge controversy.

There have been a number of precedents in history where dead leaders were displayed in one form or another to convince people of their passing.

Nicolae Ceausescu
Pictures of dead leaders mark the passing of an era
The practice goes back at least as far the Greeks, who put Alexander the Great's body on show in 323 BC as proof of death.

"When Alexander the Great died at the young age of 33, they embalmed his body in honey (displayed in a glass coffin) and preserved it for as long as they could so people could come and see his body," Fordham University journalism Professor Paul Levinson told Reuters news agency.

Two millennia later, Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu was overthrown in a violent revolution and later executed along with his wife Elena in December 1989.

The picture of his corpse was then released to the Romanian people.

People who put out those images are looking for a symbolic marker, like pulling down the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad
Timothy Garton Ash,
"The picture of Ceausescu had a huge impact as in the case of Iraq; only then did people know he was really dead," historian Timothy Garton Ash told BBC News Online.

"It became almost an icon, confirming the revolution. Everyone knows that image," he said.

People who put out those images "are looking for a symbolic marker, like pulling down the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad," he said.


The big difference with the Iraqi situation, Mr Garton Ash said, is that in the case of the Ceausescus, the Romanians themselves published the pictures, whereas in Iraq's case the decision was made by the occupying authorities.

Dead leaders have been shown throughout history as proof of death

In Romania's case, releasing the picture of their dead leader "did fix in everybody's mind how violent the revolution was - unlike other revolutions in the rest of Central Europe," Mr Garton Ash said.

One Swiss commentator asked whether the picture of the bearded Qusay - vaguely reminiscent of the dead Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara - might risk becoming a similar kind of icon for Arab youth.

Indeed, the site where Che Guevara's body was found in Bolivia is reported to have become the focus of worship by local people.

Uday and Qusay's deaths may now be turned into symbols of Iraqi resistance and reflect badly on US methods in Iraq.

Displaying the bodies was also controversial on religious grounds, as Muslim tradition requires corpses to be buried as quickly as possible.

Risky business

The BBC's Pentagon correspondent, Nick Childs, says the decision to release the photos could have other disadvantages.

"On the ground there is the risk that this will actually inflame rather than dismay some of the more hardline Baathist loyalists who have been continuing the resistance," he says.

And it is interesting that the official authority that released the pictures is not the Pentagon, but the Coalition Provisional Authority, the civilian authority in Baghdad, he adds.

"I think that is a deliberate attempt to try to some extent to distance the US military from this."

The BBC's James Reynolds
"There are still plenty of people who don't believe anything the US does"


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