Ever since the dramatic capture of Saddam Hussein, conspiracy theories have proliferated throughout the Arab world and beyond, attempting to explain how the ex-tyrant turned up looking more like a spaced-out street person than a modern-day Saladin.
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Saddam Hussein in U.S. custody
The Middle East Media Research Institute," an independent, nonprofit organization that translates and analyzes the media of the Middle East, has compiled a few of the most prevalent theories to spring up in the last few days:
- Saddam drugged?: Saddam's sister, Nawal Ibrahim Al-Hassan, speaking on the phone with Al-Quds Al-Arabi from an unidentified Arab capital, was the first to raise the conspiracy of drugging. She said her brother "could not have surrendered in this fashion unless he was subjected to anesthetization or nerve gas that has paralyzed his movements." She added: "If he were in full command of his mental capacity he would have resisted to [the] death. He is not one of the people who would surrender in such a disgraceful manner."
- Saddam's eldest daughter, Raghad, echoed similar sentiments. In an interview with Al-Arabiyya TV, Raghdad said: "It is clear to everybody that our father was drugged. ... When they described to me the details of his condition, I said to them it is impossible. He has to be drugged."
- U.S. politics: The Saudi daily Al-Riyadh believes it is evident that there was a conspiracy. It wrote: "... it can be thought that Saddam was in the hands of the Americans and that his public exposure was a show produced with the aim of neutralizing the explosive situation, so that it would be possible to ease the emotional and military pressure by the American forces and give new momentum to the American president just when he needs this kind of event. ..."
Saddam's second wife: The Saudi daily Okaz theorizes that Saddam's second wife, Samira Al-Shahbandar, who lives in Lebanon under a false identity with Saddam's only surviving son, Ali, may have been the source of information that led to Saddam's capture. "It is possible," writes Okaz, that "for delivering the head of her husband she will receive the award of $25 million," offered by the U.S. for information leading to Saddam's arrest or killing.
Okaz's theory is allegedly supported by an interview with Al-Shahbandar that fortuitously appeared in the Sunday Times of London on December 14 and appeared the subsequent day in the London-based Arabic daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat. According to Al-Shabandar, Saddam has been in touch with her via phone approximately once per week. Okaz suspects the conversations were tapped by the U.S. intelligence, and said that the last conversation was prolonged by Al-Shahbandar to give the Americans added time to pinpoint Saddam's hiding place.
Saddam as an 'American agent': An editorial in the Iraqi daily Al-Shira' titled "The Servant has Fallen in the Master's Cage" surveys Saddam's policies from 1963 until his capture and suggests he implemented these policies at the behest of his American masters. According to the newspaper, Saddam waged the war against Iran in 1980 to extricate the U.S. from its difficulties with Iran. The occupation of Kuwait in 1990 gave America and Israel "everything they were dreaming and not dreaming of," including elimination of the Palestinian problem, deepening the American presence in the Gulf to ensure American control over the sources of Arab oil, eliminating the regional role of Iraq and creating an imbalance of power between the Arabs and their enemies so that Iraq is delivered as a free gift to America.
The last service provided by this "super servant" was to surrender as "a free service to America, and Bush in particular, in disgraceful pictures that would be used as stickers in the election campaign. ..."
- Saddam as prisoner of his supporters: The advocates of this conspiracy theory argue that Saddam was kidnapped by his supporters after he issued his last audio message on Nov. 16 and was imprisoned in the spider hole where he was found three weeks later. This would explain his unkempt appearance and his willingness to surrender to the American soldiers, whom he considered as "saviors." The adherents of this theory point to the fact that Saddam's hair was black, which suggests he was not in the spider hole for very long, otherwise gray hair would have become noticeable.
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'Mother of all conspiracy theories
The "mother of all conspiracy theories," says Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli, senior analyst of MEMRI's Middle East Economic Studies Program, "is woven by Abd Al-Bari Atwan, the editor in chief of the London-based Arabic daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi – the one daily, aside from Saddam's regime dailies, which no longer exist, that has remained loyal to 'President Saddam Hussein.'"
For Atwan, "The U.S. and its mighty propaganda machine are involved in a disinformation campaign that reaches the level of terrorism" to mislead public opinion. Here is his evidence in four parts:
- First, the pictures distributed by the Americans about Saddam's hideout show a palm tree behind the soldier who uncovered the hole where Saddam was hiding. The palm tree carried a cluster of pre-ripened yellow dates, which might suggest that Saddam was arrested at least three months earlier, because dates ripen in the summer months when they turn into their natural black or brown color. Atwan concludes that the arrest was "a staged show and the place of arrest [was] completely elsewhere."
Second, if there were two rooms connected with the hole in which Saddam was captured, what explains the fact, asks Atwan, that Saddam "appeared filthy and looked like a man who did not bathe in weeks, if not in months."
Third, statements about Saddam's alleged cooperation were contradictory. Ambassador Paul Bremer said that Saddam was cooperating, while Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that he was not.
Fourth, Atwan alleges that there were bruises on Saddam's face and over his brow. In addition, Saddam behaved like a robot while he was being examined. The videos showed Saddam touching his cheeks but Atwan was able to surmise that Saddam was probing his face "as if he just woken up from coma." This led Atwan to suggest that the probing may be due to the use of nerve gas while Saddam's hideout was being raided, not unlike the gas used by the Russians against the Chechen rebels who took over the Bolshoi Palace [theatre] and which paralyzed them for hours. The alleged use of gas may explain why Saddam did not resist, and hence there is a need for "impartial experts ... to analyze the dirt in the hideout and the surrounding area to reveal the truth."
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MEMRI's Raphaeli explains the dramatic flowering of fanciful explanations for Saddam's capture:
"Almost every calamity that adversely affects the Arab world prompts conspiracy theories that are quickly woven into intricate shapes and patterns to demonstrate innocence and blame others for the calamity," he says. "In recent times this was demonstrated by conspiracy theories surrounding the September 11th attack and the terrorist attacks inside Saudi Arabia. The capture of Saddam Hussein served as yet another new cause celebre generating, to paraphrase Saddam's own words, 'the mother of all conspiracies.'"
As soon as Saddam had been captured, said Raphaeli, "his supporters in Iraq and in the Arab world were shocked to see that Saddam, who they were led to believe for decades was 'the knight of knights, courageous and gallant,' appeared on television screens meek, defeated and humiliated, without putting up a fight as his two sons and teenager grandson had done against enormous odds."