محمد سعيد الصحاف, known to most of us as Mohammed Saeed (or 'Said') al-Sahhaf, served for two years as Iraqi Minister of Information and spokesman for President Saddam Hussein. al-Sahhaf disappeared after the American and British capture of Baghdad on April 9, 2003, but before then his regular updates had been a favorite part of the daily news for everybody from Arabs hoping for word of American and British setbacks, to American war hawks who loved al-Sahhaf's brazen willingness to deny reality.
Take the following text, for example, from the New York Times, the day before the fall of Baghdad:
Less than two hours after the American incursion [into Bagdhad] began, the Iraqi information minister, Muhammad Said al-Sahhaf, was at the television networks' "stand-up" positions on the second-story roof of the Palestine Hotel's conference center, to insist that the reporters had not seen what they thought.
If reporters believed that they had witnessed an American drive deep into the heart of the capital, Mr. Sahhaf, in the green uniform and black beret of the ruling Baath Party, wished to disabuse them.
He implied that they, and American military commanders, were hallucinating about the tanks.
"They are really sick in their minds," he said. "They said they entered with 65 tanks into the center of the capital. I inform you that this is too far from the reality. This story is part of their sickness. The real truth is that there was no entry of American or British troops into Baghdad at all." The truth, he said, was that the Americans had pushed only a short distance out of the airport into a suburb where they had been surrounded by Iraqi troops, with "three-quarters of them slaughtered."
Given the widespread availability of photos and video footage of American and British soldiers in command of Saddam's palaces, it's not clear that anybody believed al-Sahhaf, but even his nonsense was entertaining. He ridiculed George W. Bush and Tony Blair in daily announcements, sometimes using elaborate and amusing metaphors that became news stories in their own right. Apparently, some members of the international press corps came to refer to Iraqi press conferences as the "al-Sahhaf show".
You can find a long list of al-Sahhaf's pronouncements to the press at the Words of Wisdom from Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf node. This includes his famous "exploding pencil" routine and the headline-making "insane little dwarf Bush."
The Middle East Media Research Institute developed a convenient glossary of the curses that al-Sahhaf used in his press conferences. You can find it at the Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf glossary node.
The Arab press liked al-Sahhaf; he gave them plenty of material. Some even dubbed him the "Iraqi Goebbels". It's not clear to me whether or not that was intended to be a compliment. Perhaps it depends on whether or not you are a fan of the Nazis' broader mission.
Al-Sahhaf was studying to be an English teacher when he joined the Ba'ath party in 1963. He worked alongside Saddam Hussein in a violent group dedicated to eliminating opponents of the party. After a 1963 coup, al-Sahhaf revealed the whereabouts of his brother-in-law, who was an army general and the country's military prosecutor, and who was then killed by Ba'ath party militias. In turning over a family member, al-Sahhaf proved his loyalty to the party, and he enjoyed a series of senior positions in the Iraqi government once Ba'ath came to power.
He was in charge of securing the country's radio and television stations, then was put in charge of them. He later served as Iraq's ambassador to India, Italy, and the United Nations. He was foreign minister from 1993 to 2001, when he was made information minister.
Apparently, al-Sahhaf has a son who practices medicine in Ireland. "My father is a good guy," reports Dr. al-Sahaf. "When he comes home from work and takes off his uniform we do not discuss his job."
In June 2003, Al-Sahhaf turned himself in to American troops in Baghdad who decided he was not a threat and let him go. He was subsequently interviewed on Arabic television and said that he felt he had done his job and felt sorry about the way everything turned out. "The information was correct but the interpretations were not," he said, adding: "I did my duty up to the last minute." Al-Sahhaf had let his hair go gray and looked generally depressed.
On July 11, he left for Abu Dhabi and said he might never return to Iraq. "When I leave I always have in my mind that I might not come down this road again, but I hope and pray to God that I can return to Baghdad one day," he said.
December 2003, he apparently has his own television show on Abu Dhabi TV.
Thanks to tres equis for his help with the Arabic text.
Reuters, July 11, 2003
Associated Press, April 9, 2003
New York Times, April 8, 2003
National Review Online, March 31, 2003
Note that this writeup antedated the popular welovetheiraqiinformationminister.com website. However they did dig up some choice al-Sahhaf material, and I have incorporated it where appropriate.