- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 24, 2003

BAGHDAD — Mohamed Sayeed al-Sahaf, who as Saddam Hussein’s loyal information minister achieved worldwide fame for his fierce though wildly inaccurate claims of victories against U.S. forces, has been arrested for at least the second time by coalition troops.

A coalition source who declined to be identified confirmed the arrest, saying Mr. Sahaf “has some serious talking to do this time.”

Mr. Sahaf was detained just after dark Monday as his Toyota Land Cruiser turned out of a busy main street toward the home of a close relative.

In the car were his elderly mother, whom he had just picked up from their tribal home about 60 miles from the capital, his favorite aunt, who is a retired school principal, and one of his two daughters.

An American Humvee armored vehicle blocked the far end of the street, and another was parked near the house, relatives said. As he stopped, soldiers came over and said, “The coalition wants you.”

A relative said it was a polite encounter. The former minister was accompanied into the house where he collected a book, a toothbrush and a razor before being whisked away in a white Land Cruiser similar to his own car.

People close to Mr. Sahaf said he has been in a state of shock since the abrupt collapse of a regime that he had defended so stoutly and with such passion.

He was not listed in the pack of cards issued by the coalition showing its 55 most-wanted Iraqis. But it is understood that he was on a secret list of about 120 former regime figures that the coalition is hunting.

The reasons for his arrest are far from obvious: Coalition security services have known his whereabouts for some time and have detained him at least once before, though for only a few hours.

Mr. Sahaf undoubtedly knows a great deal about how the regime operated — he was foreign minister before being moved to the Ministry of Information — but is not believed to have made the sort of security decisions that could lead to prosecution on charges of murder and torture.

Despite his public loyalty to former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, it cannot be assumed that he has been in touch with Saddam since the two were last seen together in a small meeting of Cabinet ministers April 7.

A coalition source declined to say where Mr. Sahaf was being held. Many of his Cabinet colleagues and fellow Ba’ath Party leaders are being detained in a secure facility near the Baghdad airport where they sleep on low bunks in concrete cells, a far cry from the life of luxury to which most of them were accustomed.

Saddam and his two sons — Qusai, who ran the main security forces, and Uday, who ran a vicious group of fighters called the Fedayeen Saddam — disappeared from view as U.S. forces captured Baghdad.

During subsequent weeks, Mr. Sahaf spent much of his time at home watching satellite television, friends said. His main pleasures have been a few shots of Scotch and regular barbecues of skewered beef and lamb.

During the past two days of Saddam’s rule, he spent much of his time in a makeshift television studio drumming up defiant programming intended to assure the Iraqi public that all would end well.

A friend said that when Mr. Sahaf saw some American troops April 11, two days after the center of Baghdad fell, he threw his Thuraya satellite phone and the keys to his Mercedes into the Tigris River. He then drove another car to the home of the same close relative where he was arrested Monday night.

Mr. Sahaf’s patently outrageous claims of Iraqi battlefield successes during the war so amused Western television viewers that he was nicknamed “Comical Ali” — a play on the more sinister “Chemical Ali” — and a Web site was created: www.welovetheiraqiinformationminister.com.

While coalition commander Gen. Tommy Franks and his team of generals at times appeared hesitant and defensive during their press conferences, Mr. Sahaf was colorful, belligerent, confident and poured out streams of colorful insults .

“He sneered and snarled and blustered better than any coalition spokesman ever did,” one observer said. “He won the fight hands down. Just a pity for him the facts caught up with him.”

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