Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf
Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf
|Minister of Foreign Affairs|
6 June 1992 – 23 October 2001
|Preceded by||Tariq Aziz|
|Succeeded by||Naji Sabri|
|Minister of Media and Foreign Affairs|
23 October 2001 – 1 February 2005
|Preceded by||Humam Abd al-Khaliq Abd al-Ghafur|
|Succeeded by||None, Ministry dissolved|
|Born||30 July 1937|
|Political party||Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party – Iraq Region|
|Alma mater||Baghdad University|
Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf (Arabic: محمد سعيد الصحاف Muḥammad Saʿīd Al-Ṣaḥḥāf; 30 July 1937) is an Iraqi former diplomat and politician. He came to worldwide prominence around the 2003 invasion of Iraq, during which he was the Media and Foreign Affairs Minister under Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, acting as spokesman for the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party and Saddam's government. He has also been nicknamed Baghdad Bob or Comical Ali for his colorful television appearances as the Information Minister of Iraq.
Before the Iraq War
Al-Sahhaf was born in Hilla, near Karbala, to a Shi'ite Arab family. After studying journalism at Baghdad University, he graduated with a master's degree in English literature. He planned to become an English teacher before joining the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party in 1963. In the early days of the Ba'athist regime, he read out regular announcements of recently executed Iraqis on state television.
He served as an ambassador to Sweden, Burma, the United Nations and Italy, before returning to Iraq to serve as Foreign Minister in 1992. The reasons for his removal as Foreign Minister in April 2001 are unclear, but his achievements in the position were often claimed to be less satisfactory than that of his predecessor, Tariq Aziz. At least one report suggests that Uday Hussein, Saddam Hussein's son, was responsible for the removal.
During the Iraq War
Al-Sahhaf is known for his daily press briefings in Baghdad during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. His colorful appearances caused him to be nicknamed "Baghdad Bob" (in the style of previous propagandists with geographical aliases—some of them alliterative, such as "Hanoi Hannah" and "Seoul City Sue") by commentators in the United States. He was nicknamed "Comical Ali" (a wordplay allusion to "Chemical Ali", the nickname of former Iraqi Defence Minister Ali Hassan al-Majid) by commentators in the United Kingdom; commentators in Italy similarly nicknamed him "Alì il Comico".
His pronouncements included claims that American soldiers were committing suicide "by the hundreds" outside the city, and denial that there were any American tanks in Baghdad, when in fact they were only several hundred meters away from the press conference where he was speaking and the combat sounds of nearing American troops could already be heard in the background of the broadcast. On another occasion, he spoke of the disastrous outcomes of previous foreign attempts to invade Iraq, citing an unspecified Western history book and inviting the journalists present to come to his home to read it. His last public appearance as Information Minister was on 8 April 2003, when he said that the Americans "are going to surrender or be burned in their tanks. They will surrender, it is they who will surrender". When asked where he had gotten his information, he replied, "authentic sources—many authentic sources". He pointed out that he "was a professional, doing his job".
He frequently used the word ‘ulūj (علوج), an obscure and particularly insulting term for infidels, to describe the American forces in Iraq. This caused some debate in the Arabic-language media about the exact meaning of the word, with most concluding it meant "bloodsucking insect". In an August 2003 interview on Abu Dhabi Al Oula, al-Sahhaf said it was an archaic term attributed to Umar ibn Al-Khattāb.
Al-Sahhaf gained something of a cult following in the West, appearing on T-shirts, cartoons, and in Internet phenomena. In the UK, a DVD documentary was sold about his exploits and televised interviews, called Comical Ali.
On 25 June 2003, British newspaper the Daily Mirror reported that al-Sahhaf had been captured by coalition troops at a roadblock in Baghdad. The report was not confirmed by military authorities and was denied by al-Sahhaf's family through Abu Dhabi TV. The next day, al-Sahhaf recorded an interview for Dubai-based news channel al-Arabiya. He was reportedly paid as much as US$200,000 for the television interview, during which he appeared very withdrawn, in contrast with the bombastic persona he projected during the war. Many of his answers consisted of a simple "yes" or "no". He refused to speculate on the causes of the downfall of the Iraqi government and answered only "history will tell" when asked if video clips purporting to prove that Saddam Hussein was alive were genuine, amid speculation at that time that Hussein had been killed during the war.
His fame quickly evaporated as the war continued into the insurgency phase; from the middle of 2003 onward, he faded from the public spotlight, and was no longer a figure in the war. Al-Sahhaf said that he had surrendered to United States forces, had been interrogated by them and then released. He was not charged for his role in Saddam Hussein's government.
- "Profile: Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf". BBC News. 27 June 2003. Retrieved 19 March 2008.
- Alderson, Andrew (13 April 2003). "'True lies' make web star out of Saddam's mouthpiece". The Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 26 August 2003. Retrieved 19 March 2008.
- Fisk, Robert (2006). The Great War For Civilisation. London: Harper Perennial. p. 187. ISBN 978-1-84115-008-6.
- "Report: U.S. Bags 'Baghdad Bob'". Fox News Channel. 25 June 2003. Retrieved 25 June 2003.
- Cozens, Claire (13 January 2004). "Comical Ali gets job as TV pundit". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 April 2020.
- Jones, Howard (2008). Crucible of Power: A History of American Foreign Relations from 1897. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 591. ISBN 978-0-7425-5825-0.
- "'Comical Ali' resurfaces". BBC News. 26 June 2003. Retrieved 15 August 2009.
- Hammond, Andrew (2007). Popular Culture in the Arab World: Arts, Politics, and the Media. American University in Cairo Press. p. 60. ISBN 978-977-416-054-7.
- "We Love the Iraqi Information Minister". We Love the Iraqi Information Minister. 30 May 2003. Archived from the original on 6 March 2005. Retrieved 11 May 2013.
- Kaplan, Don (30 April 2003). "Ex-Iraqi Information Minister Could Be a TV Star". FoxNews.com. Archived from the original on 12 May 2006. Retrieved 30 April 2003.
- "Ex-minister detained, released". Associated Press. 27 June 2003.
- DePrang, Emily (21 March 2013). "'Baghdad Bob' and His Ridiculous, True Predictions". The Atlantic. Retrieved 10 February 2017.
- Whipple, Tom; Garlick, Hattie (19 March 2008). "Where are they now? Comical Ali, Rageh Omaar and Private Jessica Lynch". The Times. Archived from the original on 2 June 2020.
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