- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 6, 2003

BAGHDAD — Saddam Hussein’s faithful information minister, Mohammed Said Sahhaf, whose outrageous proclamations and denial of the obvious Iraqi setbacks during the war earned him an international following of sorts, is reported to be trying to strike a deal with the Americans that would allow him to go into exile in Egypt. Another Iraqi official, a retired general who is working closely with retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, told the Sunday Telegraph that he had been approached by one of Mr. Sahhaf’s cousins, seeking a deal.The general described Mr. Sahhaf as “naive” and claimed that Saddam used to beat his minister of information.In the dying days of the regime the indefatigable minister, dubbed “Comical Ali,” haunted a radio studio in Baghdad, urging engineers to carry on pumping out Saddam’s propaganda.Even after the statue of Saddam was toppled on April 9, Mr. Sahhaf refused to accept that Saddam’s era was over. But in the early hours of April 10, with the sound of battle raging ever closer to the studio in the al-Adhamiyah district, even Mr. Sahhaf headed for the exit.”Sahhaf slowly removed his black beret,” recalls Raibah Hassan, 35, the manager of the Hikmat studio, the last person to have seen Mr. Sahhaf in public. “He folded down the epaulettes on his military jacket to hide his rank and then he reached for a red and white kaffiyeh scarf.”He wrapped it around his head as he told us to keep on rebroadcasting until 3 a.m. He said goodbye and then disappeared out of the back door.”One manifestation of the cult following the voice of the old regime achieved is that record producers are planning to create a dance track sampling his most popular catchphrases.Certainly, Mr. Sahhaf’s loyalty as a standard-bearer for the cause was remarkable. According to Mr. Hassan, the studio manager, Mr. Sahhaf and a team of aides arrived at the studio on April 8 and rarely left it. He says that Mr. Sahhaf worked from a transmitter van parked in the studio garden, sustained only by a few cups of tea and an occasional slice of cake. On the morning of April 9, the day American soldiers seized Baghdad, he set off as usual for the Palestine Hotel, where the world’s media were based, to deliver his daily briefing but made a U-turn after spotting American troops. “He was very tense,” Mr. Hassan recalls. “He had been cut off from the regime.” Nothing daunted, the minister carried on. “He pushed it to the very end,” Mr. Hassan says. “I saw American tanks on Haifa Street across the river, and I asked him about it. He said, ‘No, no, no, maybe there are two or three tanks, but they will go.’ ” As the streets around the studio, which is near one of Saddam’s biggest palaces, were being looted, desperate Ba’ath Party officials fled. Only Mr. Sahhaf remained, making sure the regime’s propaganda was pumped out over the airwaves. In the evening of April 9, a courier arrived with a videotape of what was supposedly Saddam’s last recorded speech and an official handwritten note that ordered it to be broadcast continuously. The minister’s spirits visibly lifted, says Mr. Hassan. “He said to me, ‘As I told you, this is Saddam, this is the government, everything is normal.’ ” But there was gunfire in the background.” When Mr. Sahhaf finally accepted that all was lost, he left even his bodyguards behind. Barely three hours later, American troops swarmed down the street. “I think he ran the battle alone,” Mr. Hassan said. “For two days he stayed with me with no food, nothing. He did his duty to the very end. He was brave.”Two Iranian newspapers reported in April that Mr. Sahhaf killed himself as the allied forces closed in on Baghdad. But military sources told the Times of London they were treating the reports with caution, suggesting that the fleeing propagandist may have spread the story to throw Special Forces off his trail. Last week there were rumors that Mr. Sahhaf had been hiding out in Baghdad, staying in an aunt’s house.”Sahhaf’s cousin told me he wants to give himself up, but with certain conditions,” the retired Iraqi general says. “They know I had a connection with Jay Garner and I sent him to see Garner. But I warned him not to set conditions with the Americans. “He wants to be outside Iraq,” said the general, who did not wish to be identified. “He wants to get to Egypt. He has a lot of money stashed there in a bank and loves those Egyptian women very, very much.”

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