Sun, May 11, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Saddam is alive in the US, believe it or not

TALL TALES With few newspapers and little electricity for radios or TVs, Iraqis are getting their information from some dubious sources and fueling the rumor mill


The CIA is hiding Saddam Hussein in the US, but the deposed Iraqi president will return to unleash chemical weapons on his own people. Meanwhile, Saddam is taking a cut of the profits from all the oil the US is secretly pumping in southern Iraq.

But wait -- that can't be right. Saddam has been dead for eight years, part of a plot by his son Qusai, who hired an actor for his father's TV appearances. Saddam's other son Udai surrendered Friday, but the Americans are keeping it quiet because he's a US agent.

True? You'd think so -- if you listened to the talk on the streets of Baghdad, where there are few newspapers, little electricity for radios or TVs, no authorities to give definitive answers and enough desperation and fear to excite an already overactive rumor mill.

"You hear a lot of things. Most seem impossible, but these are rumors -- Saddam's rumors," said Kamal Jehan Bakish, manning his fly-infested shampoo stall in a street market in the slum once known as Saddam City.

Graffiti, scrawled in the shadows, helps fuel the rumors. In eastern Baghdad's Zayuna neighborhood, pro-Saddam slogans appeared this week on a pedestrian bridge. "Long live the leader Saddam Hussein," said one.

Another was more ominous. "We swear to God ... that we will chop off all the hands that wave to American soldiers whose hands are stained by the blood of our great martyrs," it read.

With little law enforcement, gasoline or electricity in Baghdad, most commercial establishments are closed. That leads not only to hunger and frustration, but to a lot of free time for trafficking in rumors in a part of the world where conspiracy theories flourish.

Complicating matters is the unresolved fate of the deposed Iraqi leader. No one can say definitively if Saddam's dead or alive, inside Iraq or not. And though many in Baghdad believe he's not dead -- and quite possibly in the US -- the swirl of inaccurate information only makes things muddier.

In the Azamiyah neighborhood, where Saddam was last reported seen April 9, a group of men sat on wooden benches Friday, smoking cigarettes and sipping tea.

"If you want to know where Saddam is, ask the CIA," said Ahmed Jassem Issa, 56, a retired Irrigation Ministry worker. "They have him now. He is their son. I even heard he released an audiotape."

No, interjected Ahmed Rashad Ahmed, 57, a mechanic: "The tape was from Hala," Saddam's youngest daughter.

"I tell you, it was Saddam," Issa snapped back. "Just ask the CIA about him."

The rumor about Saddam unleashing chemical weapons has a history. At first, Saddam was to commit this atrocity on his birthday, April 28. "People were afraid," said 51-year-old Abdul Kalek Kamal.

When that day passed with no attack, several other dates were mentioned -- including Friday, one month after the fall of Baghdad.

After Saddam, the most common subject for the rumor mill is Iraq's oil. Pretty much everybody in Baghdad is convinced the Americans invaded to steal oil, and many believe they're already making a profit from it.

"They are secretly pumping oil and stealing it," said Nazar Mohammed, 59, fingering his yellow prayer beads as a mechanic worked on the fuel pump of his Chevrolet Caprice.

That rumor had made its way across town to the former Saddam City, where Kamal expounded on it from his empty food shop.

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