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Kidd Millennium: Joker’s Wild

Column & Cartoon by…

Joker’s Wild
By Ron Callari
roncallari@comcast.net

Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, the former Information Minister of Iraq delivered mega doses of comic relief offsetting a war filled with images of bedlam and mayhem. Perhaps, not quite as astute as the archetypal medieval jester, this Iraqi official did remarkable stand-up, even if he was devoid of any insight into his own comedic abilities.

Captivating a worldwide audience, President Bush admitted he was a fan of the former information minister’s style. "He's my man, he was great," Bush enthused in an interview with NBC's Tom Brokaw. "Somebody accused us of hiring him and putting him there. He was a classic." Maybe Ari Fleisher needs to watch his backside!

Nicknamed Baghdad Bob and Comical Ali, Saddam’s town square crier gave a new meaning to the word propagandist. Today, with the public relations industry taking some derogatory hits in films like "Phone Booth" and "People I Know", al-Sahaf’s own brand of PR made Mata Hari look like a soothsayer.

His now famous quip "there are no American infidels in Baghdad" stimulated American ingenuity to churn out a series of novelty products for a market that is currently intrigued by anything Iraqi.

In tribute to the ex-minister, the company Hero Builders has created the Mohammed Saeed al- Sahaf doll for $24.95 (£15.67). Twelve inches tall and suited up in military garb, this GI Joe comes in a speaking version. The minister’s actual voice has been imprinted onto a voice chip and is programmed with such classics as "We besieged them and have killed most of them" and "My feelings are as usual…we will slaughter them all."

Other action figures sold by the same company include ``Saddam Insane,'' the "Butcher of Baghdad,'' and even an "Osama in Drag'' doll – the al Qaida leader outfitted in a very feminine pink number.

For the gourmet, why not tempt your taste buds with Baghdad Bob's "hot sauce for infidels?" According to the Hero Builders’ Web site, "Hans Blix was looking everywhere for a bottle of this" but his inspectors were unsuccessful in uncovering this chemical weapon of mass consumption. Guess they weren’t searching hard enough, since this extra hot Habernero sauce is flying off the shelves at $4.95, hyped by the advertising slogan "God will roast your stomach in hell".

The U.S. military has even gotten into the act. A deck of 55 cards featuring the most-wanted Iraqi ex-regime members was initially distributed to the U.S. troops in the field to help identify the missing Mesopotamia Mafia. Odai Hussein is the ace of hearts, Qusai Hussein, the ace of clubs and of course the ace of spades was reserved for the chief honcho himself, the deposed Saddam Hussein.

Even though the Pentagon only issued several thousand decks, The United States Playing Card Company, a playing card manufacturer is trying to stop other companies from selling copies of the Iraqi playing cards. The Pentagon decks contain the Hoyle joker, a brand copyrighted by this Ohio based company.

Today however, dozens of manufacturers have produced knockoffs and the Internet is fertile ground for countless upstarts looking to make a few bucks off of America's patriotic spirit. On eBay, the oft-visited online-auction site, more than 2,000 sellers are offering copies of the Pentagon's deck, with some prices topping $100.

Defense Department brass have no problems with their designs being counterfeited by would-be vendors. But the marketing rush has taken the Pentagon by surprise, even if Iraq's Republican Guard did not.

With only 55 cards to print pictures onto, three lower-ranking "Saddamites" didn't make the final cut. And because the Pentagon couldn't find pictures for everyone, 13 cards can get lost in the shuffle, since they only display silhouettes.

Conspicuously missing however is our very own favorite, the now absent B’aath spinmeister himself…Baghdad Bob.

But for every new demand, the market does respond. The first official print run of the "Trust Me Brand" deck of 54 playing cards comes with quotes from the King of the Iraqi one-liners. A definite collectors’ item, this deck features the stoic straight man in his official beret substituting as the joker. Each card has a famous Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf quote and the official game is called "Pentagon Joker".

Sadly, however the minister cannot reap any benefit from the cottage industry he has spawned. On April 8, 2003 he disappeared from public view altogether.

When and if he does surface again, and bears witness to how his 15 minutes of fame has transformed him into a worldwide celebre’, we are sure he won’t believe his lying eyes!

******

Ron Callari is a freelance journalist and editorial cartoonist who resides in Jersey City, New Jersey. He and co-creator Jack Pittman produce kidd millennium cartoons weekly.

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