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Last Updated: Friday, 9 January, 2004, 12:24 GMT
Iraq's other Saddams

By Caroline Hawley
BBC correspondent in Baghdad

It seemed like a good idea at the time, but the Majid family are now desperately regretting their decision, more than three decades ago, to call their son Saddam.

New-born child
More likely to be Hassan than Saddam
In post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, Saddam Majid's name has become a liability.

"It's a curse," says the former army deserter who has just moved back to Baghdad from seven years in exile in Iran.

"I've always hated the name, because Saddam Hussein caused so much destruction. And now when I look for work, I'm being rejected."

One potential employer turned him away because another employee had lost three brothers under Saddam Hussein's brutal regime.

His mother, Shafiqa, named her son Saddam after a neighbour's child, saying she never imagined the problems the then vice-president, Saddam Hussein, would cause to the country.

But countless other families called their sons Saddam to curry favour with the former regime.

Born again

One of the country's main maternity hospitals, the Alwiya hospital, staff say they used to register, on average, one Saddam born every week.

That all stopped abruptly after the war.

Over the past few months, not a single family has chosen the name of the ousted and now incarcerated dictator.

Saddam Majid
Saddam Majid hopes to become Muhammad Majid

The parents of the first generation of Iraqis born after Saddam Hussein are sticking to good old-fashioned Muslim names like Muhammad, Ali and Hassan.

"Saddam was never really a popular name," according to Dr Muhammad el-Chabek, the director of the hospital.

"But people, especially in rural areas, did it to flatter Saddam Hussein because he was president. Sometimes Saddam would visit people at home and uneducated people thought that if he came he might give them a big gift for calling their son Saddam."

"Now that the regime is gone," says Chabek, "people would be frightened to call their son Saddam and families who already did are now trying to change the name," says Chabek.

At a run-down building of the ministry of interior in central Baghdad, officials say they have seen a steady flow of Saddams - many of them schoolboys - seeking to ditch a name that has become, for them, a badge of shame.

Saddam Majid, smiling but apprehensive, helps the Baghdad bureaucrats search through dusty piles of giant files which survived the war for the dossier they need to register his new name, and set him on the path to a new future.

Paperwork for changing names
Changing your name involves a lot of paperwork

He hopes that by changing his name to Muhammad, he'll at least marginally improve his chances of finding a job in a country where unemployment runs at around 60%.

He'll also feel more comfortable with himself.

"I was always embarrassed by my name," he said.

"I hated myself because of it. But now, we have a new country and I can have a new name. Being called Muhammad, the name of the prophet, it is as if I have been born again."


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