30 April 2003

Yes, But Where Are the Saddam Look-Alikes?

The Times of India, April 30, 2003

Yes, but where are the Saddam look-alikes?

By Siddharth Varadarajan

Ever since the fall of Baghdad, everyone's been asking where's Saddam and where are the weapons of mass destruction he allegedly had. Fair enough. But the question that intrigues me the most is this: Where on earth are his famed look-alikes? If Saddam is dead, did they all, to the last man, die with him? And if he's slipped out of the country -- to Syria, Belarus, wherever -- did he manage to take each and every one of his replicas with him? Are there, even as we speak, a dozen Saddams sadly sipping vodka (doubles, no doubt) in some seedy bar in Minsk or Vitebsk?

From the first day, Iraqi television began broadcasting footage of a defiant Saddam untouched by the US `decapitation strike' against him, the American and British media have been telling us not to trust our own eyes. Even though you think you're seeing Saddam, reporters told us breathlessly, you can't be sure because the Iraqi leader is known to use a series of body doubles for his public appearances. This claim was often simply asserted as fact, or at best sourced to "Iraqi exiles" and "Western intelligence agencies".

To tell you the truth, I was always a bit skeptical about this explanation. First of all, in the 38 years I've been around on this planet, I've yet to see any human being with an exact body double, let alone several such human replicas so perfect in every manner as Saddam's were said to be.

And then there was the administrative aspect which bothered me. Was there a special department of the Iraqi government which kept track of the look-alikes, graded them according to quality and reliability, and decided whether Saddam 1, 4 or 8 should be used for such and such appearance? Finally, what would happen if one of the look-alikes - or his handlers - were to assert that the real Saddam was actually an impostor and order his summary execution? Was there a procedure laid down conclusively to identify the real McCoy? DNA tests, blood groups, perhaps a conveniently inflicted scar on the derriere?

On my part, I'm willing to bet that the failure of the US occupiers to locate and capture even one of the alleged Saddam doubles strongly suggests the Iraqi leader never had any. I reckon the story about body doubles is a classic psy-op, a theory probably floated by the Pentagon's erstwhile Office of Strategic Influence in order to demoralize and disorient the enemy. I don't know who or how this bit of information warfare was first foisted on the media but once it was out there, there was no shortage of journalists and editors gullible enough to retail an obviously suspect, nonfalsifiable theory.

But the psy-ops didn't end there. Throughout the war, the Pentagon used the media to spread disinformation about the course of the fighting, inventing civilian uprisings where there were none (Basra), chemical weapons factories where there were none (near Najaf), Iraqi anti-aircraft fire falling back onto earth to kill civilians (rather than US missiles being responsible), and bizarre claims about Iraqi soldiers "pushing women and children on to the street" and firing at "coalition forces" from behind these "human shields." Though the last claim has by now entered war lore, there is not even one credible eyewitness account from an embedded journalist to substantiate this charge, let alone establish that this was a widespread, pervasive Iraqi tactic. What the claim did, however, was to shift the blame for civilian deaths away from the invading army and on to the defenders.

The most impressive psy-op of the war, however, occurred on its last day, when US soldiers toppled a statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdous Square, Baghdad. The square is right opposite the Palestine Hotel where foreign journalists were staying. All US TV stations showed carefully framed, close-up footage of what seemed like a largish crowd toppling the statue with the assistance of a US army vehicle. The footage was shown live for hours, repeatedly broadcast throughout the day, especially by CNN and BBC, and cited by US leaders as proof of the 'legitimacy' of the war.

While most Iraqis were glad to be rid of Saddam, they had been reluctant to perform in large numbers for the invading army. With the blood of 2,000 Iraqi civilians and 10,000 soldiers on their hands, Bush and Rumsfeld needed cathartic footage of the oppressed masses surging forward towards freedom. The Firdous Square statue toppling was conceived for this purpose and executed brilliantly.

Had TV cameras shown a long shot of Firdous Square, the impression the toppling would have created would be very different. There is a long shot posted on the web (http://nyc.indymedia.org/front.php3?article_id=55384&group=webcast) which shows a largely empty square cordoned off by US tanks. Small clusters of Iraqis outside the square can be seen watching the toppling of the statue, as silent spectators rather than active participants.

Now, the question is, who were the few dozen Iraqis trying to bring the statue down? Obviously people the Americans trusted because the footage clearly shows some two dozen boisterous men clambering on top of the US army vehicle and charging at the statue. Remember, this was barely ten days after the suicide attack in central Iraq which claimed the lives of four US soldiers and a few days after nervous, trigger happy marines had mowed down a whole family when their car didn't slow down at a checkpost.

But even if the statue topplers were men the Americans could trust, who were they? Photographs doing the rounds on the Net strongly suggest they were members of Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress militia who had been flown into Nasiriya on April 6. One INC man in uniform shown with Chalabi at Nasiriya reappears in civilian clothes in a Reuters photograph from Baghdad on April 9, the day the statue is toppled, celebrating the entry of US soldiers. Readers can view and compare the two photographs at the same website mentioned above.

The only explanation for the coincidence is that like Saddam, the Chalabi supporter also has a body double. Wily aren't they, these Iraqis?

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