|17th April 2003||#1|
sadam be chillin
Showdown in Iraq
WHERE'S SADDAM?: Arab rumor mill says U.S. helped him disappear
April 17, 2003
BY TAMARA AUDI
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
In a sun-filled Dearborn waiting room with a giant red gum ball machine in one corner and a television permanently tuned to an Arabic news channel in another, chatter about jobs and children inevitably turns to talk of a secret plan.
The secret plan.
The one that has deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein making a deal with the U.S. government to escape Iraq with his life and fortune.
The one that has him sipping vodka in Russia, puffing cigars in Cuba, lining up for early-bird dinners in Florida.
The secret plan that is not so secret because all of Dearborn -- and points well beyond -- knows about it.
Like the wave through a crowd of baseball fans, the secret plan is a powerful rumor that is spreading through Arab communities worldwide.
It goes something like this:
"The U.S. has him hidden somewhere," said Mageda Nourddine, a 34-year-old Lebanese-American mother from Dearborn. At first, she laughs at her own statement, then turns serious. "Saddam is a smart man. He found a way out. And we don't know everything our government does."
Many Arabs and Arab-Americans are reluctant to discuss the theory outside the safety of family groups, so the question of Hussein's fate often has two answers.
"He's in hell where he belongs. That's what I tell people," said Alix Awada, a 53-year-old language translator from Dearborn.
But then Awada offers a second option. "I believe he was pulled out months before the war even started," Awada said. "This was all planned between the U.S. and Iraq before we even sent one soldier there. President Bush would not have gone in without a guarantee to win."
The theory is fed by a confluence of events, including reports last week that a Russian diplomat escorted Hussein out of Iraq. A day later, U.S. President George W. Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, flew to Russia.
The Russian government denied harboring Hussein, and Rice said she traveled there to strengthen U.S.-Russian relations.But that has not slowed the story from reaching even Karmada Street, a lower-class shopping district in the middle of Baghdad's west side.
"We are still scared," said Abdal Kareem Taha, a 44-year-old merchant who works on Karmada. "We keep hearing there is a secret deal happening between Saddam and the U.S. government, and Saddam will be back again."
Taha said that until he hears that Hussein is dead or in jail or that a new government is in place, he will be suspicious.
"Nobody believes he's dead," said Imad Hamad, executive director of Michigan's American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee."People believe there was a deal that was done with him and the U.S."
Conspiracy theories abound in the Arab world, but this one has transcended age groups and education levels, and jumped continents.
Beirut-based journalist Malek Kaakour said he believes the United States made a deal with Hussein and Russia because "there are questions nobody answers."
For example, believers ask:
Why were Hussein's palaces found empty of furniture? (They answer:He packed up and left months ago.)
Why was there no structured military or chemical response to the U.S. assault? (He agreed to hold off in return for safe passage out of the country.)
Why did Rice go to Moscow right after reports about the Russian diplomat escorting Hussein out of Iraq? (To seal the deal.)
The theory provides some kind of answer, but also reveals the Arab world's deep and growing mistrust of the U.S. government, said Gary David, assistant professor of sociology at Bentley College in Massachusetts and an expert on Arab-American communities.
Conspiracy theories will flourish as the Arab world struggles to make sense of turmoil, David said.
"I don't have any evidence, but it wouldn't surprise me if there was a deal," said Mustafah Al-Omari, an Iraqi-American from Sterling Heights. "Funny things happen in the Middle East."
Contact TAMARA AUDI at 313-222-6582 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff writer Nancy A. Youssef contributed to this report from Baghdad.
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