Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Saddam's TV Appearance Brings Popularity Surge
Safaa Mansour, a host for Radio Dijla in Baghdad, was astonished by an impromptu poll in which 125 out of the 200 listeners who called in said they were against the trial of former president Saddam Hussein.
"Some callers burst into tears.... One woman said she was ready to sacrifice her son for Saddam," Safaa, host of a popular new radio programme, told IWPR. "The callers called into doubt the legality of the court and the interim government. Some said Saddam was the legitimate president, despite the [human rights] violations which happened under him.”
In his July 1 court appearance before an Iraqi judge, Saddam rejected the legitimacy of the trial proceedings, refused to sign a list of accusations against him, demanded to be referred to as president of Iraq, and insisted on having a lawyer.
Safaa said Saddam won over his radio audience with his old familiar style of speaking – seen as chatty and confident – as well as a few well-delivered lines, particularly his defence of the invasion of Kuwait.
At the time of that invasion in 1990, Saddam accused Kuwait of adopting oil policies that impoverished Iraq, which had recently fought off Iran and thus, Baghdad claimed, foiled an attempt to overrun the Gulf.
But Saddam had a different justification during his recent court appearance, and he struck a chord with recent opinions expressed in the capital.
"Kuwaitis were turning Iraqi women into 10-dinar whores," Saddam said. "Should Iraqis take that? I did that for the Iraqi people. How can you defend these dogs?"
Some Baghdadis agreed with this sentiment, claiming that before the invasion, upmarket areas of the capital were swamped with Kuwaiti men arriving for short-term marriages to poor young Iraqi women, only to divorce them at the end of their vacation.
Muhammed al Barrak, a writer for the al-Bayan newspaper, said Saddam's "courageous speech" and self-confidence dispelled the negative impression formed last December by televised images of the bedraggled former president plucked from his hiding place without a fight.
"Saddam's [court] appearance, with his charm and his decisive statements, made many Iraqis forget the image of him the day he was captured," said Muhammed. "I felt as though he were in power again, because of his [public] support and the rejection of his trial."
Indeed, Muhammed could not find any Baghdadi who was in favour of the trial, and he had to travel to the southern Shia city of Karbala to find anyone who supported the proceedings.
Even some Shias found the televised Saddam compelling.
"Despite his crimes, he's still likeable. No one could govern the country like him," said Nihad Kadhem, a Shia who works in the media. "If he ever had a chance to talk to the public, he could talk his way back into power again.”
The demand for recordings of the trial underscores the apparent popularity of the former president.
According to salesmen of video and compact discs, Saddam’s brief first court appearance has already become a bestseller.
Hareth Maseer, who sells videos in Baghdad’s Bab al-Sharji market, made hundreds of copies of the trial, the footage mixed with archive film of the 1990-91 Gulf War.
On the day after Saddam’s first court session, Hareth sold 500 copies and made a profit of 200,000 dinars, or 150 US dollars.
As a result, said Hareth, he was looking forward to further court appearances by the former dictator.
Dhiya Rasan is an IWPR trainee in Baghdad.
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