AMMAN: Just as President George W. Bush and hawks in Washington thought they had punched through the gates of Baghdad, President Saddam Hussein appeared walking along the streets of the bombed-out Iraqi capital.
On Friday, the Iraqi television video clip of Saddam had a morale-boosting effect in the Arab world. The 67-year-old Iraqi leader definitely outwitted Bush in that night’s propaganda battle.
As the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq entered its 16th day and with thousands of Bush’s troops less then 20km away on the tarmac of the Saddam International Airport, a smiling Saddam, looking confident and defiant, was repeatedly shown on Arab television.
“Bush, Bush, listen carefully. We love Saddam,” chanted the crowd around Saddam as he inspected bomb-damaged buildings.
While Bush and his allies debated over whether it was Saddam or his double on the screen and when the images were filmed, his walkabout is seen by the Arabs as a blow to the invaders.
The appearance of Saddam – or someone who looks very much like him – provided a psychological boost for subdued Arabs, who had been bombarded with video footages of the imminent fall of Baghdad the previous 48 hours.
And the airport was renamed Baghdad International Airport once it fell to the US troops, who reportedly found little fighting power left in Saddam’s elite army units on Thursday night.
Earlier in the day, several demoralised Jordanians taxi drivers didn’t want to talk about the capture of the airport when they saw Saddam giving a speech urging his people to fight the invaders, telling them to “hit them hard, resist them in the name of Allah, people of the brave and glorious Baghdad.”
“America is lying. They cut off electricity to Baghdad,” one of them had said.
The last time Saddam had appeared on Iraq TV was early last week. Since then Iraqi ministers have been reading out his messages.
But after watching with pride the footage of Saddam with a cheering crowd, a taxi driver said: “You see, Saddam is alive. He is our hero. Bush is dead.”
The taxi driver said although he had hated Saddam’s regime in the past after hearing what his Iraqi friends exiled in Jordan had told him, he now saw Saddam as the real leader of Arabs as he was prepared to fight against the American and British forces.
Since the invasion began on March 19, a part of the US psychological warfare was spreading of reports of the death of Saddam and defection of his regime’s key leaders.
The Washington hawks, who initially touted the “shock and awe” strategy of intense targeted bombing, were not impressed by the Iraqi leader’s latest show of defiance on television.
On seeing the latest television footage of Saddam, the US leaders now say that it doesn't matter if he Is alive or dead, and their military objective of toppling his regime and taking over Baghdad was on track.
“We are closing in on a dying regime. Saddam may not last till next week,” was the view of several Western journalists watching the CNN version of the Iraq invasion.
However, some US military analysts said it was becoming painfully clear that the Pentagon’s leaders had become victims of the Bush administration’s own propaganda.
The Washington propaganda of a dying Saddam regime is only killing the Iraqi people while Saddam appears to be still alive and resisting the invasion of Iraq in the face overwhelming military power with an element of heroism, they said.
In the Arab world, they added, Saddam – like Osama bin Laden – will remain a hero, dead or alive.