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Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf

Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf

The basics
Quick Facts
Intro Diplomat
Countries Iraq
Occupations Politician Diplomat Journalist
Gender male
Birth Hillah
The details

Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf (Arabic: محمد سعيد الصحاف‎‎ Muḥammad Saʿīd Al-Ṣaḥḥāf; born 1940) is a former Iraqi diplomat and politician. He came to wide prominence around the world during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, during which he was the Iraqi Information Minister under Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, acting as the spokesperson for the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party and Saddam's regime.
He is best known for his grandiose and grossly unrealistic propaganda broadcasts before and during the war, extolling the invincibility of the Iraqi Army and the permanence of Saddam's rule. His announcements were met with widespread derision and amusement by Western nationals and others with access to up-to-date information from international media organizations. In the US he was popularly known as Baghdad Bob and in Britain as Comical Ali (a joke derived from Saddam's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, who was also known as "Chemical Ali").

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, son of the President Saddam Hussein, was responsible for the removal.

During the Iraq war

Al-Sahhaf is known for his daily press briefings in Baghdad during the 2003 Iraq War. 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 the 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".

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 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".

Post-war life

On 25 June 2003, the 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 himself recorded an interview for the Dubai-based al-Arabiya news channel. Al-Sahhaf said that he had surrendered to US forces, had been interrogated by them and released. He was reportedly paid as much as $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. Although questioned by American authorities, al-Sahhaf was released, and there has been no suggestion of charging or detaining him for his role in the Saddam Hussein government.

When asked where he had got his information he replied, "authentic sources—many authentic sources". He pointed out that he "was a professional, doing his job". He is now living in the United Arab Emirates with his family. In November 2014, Swedish newspaper Expressen posted a video of an ill man, claimed to be Al-Sahhaf, in a hospital bed in the UAE, claiming that he was dying.

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