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Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, face of Iraqi government

Sahaf: Scorned by western media but a hero to some Arabs

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Defiant: Sahaf briefs reporters in Baghdad (April 7)
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (Reuters) -- A black military beret on his head, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf has become the face and voice of Iraqi defiance.

Iraq's information minister seems completely undaunted by U.S. and British advances, and often as not flatly denies what viewers around the world can see on their TV screens. ('Iraq still controls airport')

Even as U.S. troops roamed through a presidential complex in the heart of Baghdad on Monday and as tanks rumbled down streets a few hundred meters away, Sahaf was confidently boasting to the world the invaders would be slaughtered.

"The infidels are committing suicide by the hundreds on the gates of Baghdad," he told reporters gathered on the roof of the ministry of information. "As our leader Saddam Hussein said, 'God is grilling their stomachs in hell.'" (Sahaf: U.S. troops will be burnt)

Sahaf, 63, who kept a low profile before the war, has become an unlikely media star and a hero to many in the Arab world, at the same time as Western audiences gasp at his bravado.

While Iraqi troops fight in the field, the former foreign minister has dug deep into the lexicon of Arabic insults for verbal salvoes to lob at the "evil invaders."

He branded the British and U.S. leaders "an international gang of criminal bastards," "blood-sucking bastards," ignorant imperialists, losers and fools.

He calls the U.S. and British forces flocks of sheep doomed to die in Iraq or likens them to a snake slithering through the desert that will be chopped into pieces.

Sahaf often leaves foreign reporters astonished at his version of events, but roundly dismisses U.S. and British reports of the war as lies and "illusions."

In the Arab world, Sahaf escapes the mockery his utterances evoke in Western newspapers.

"I believe Sahaf exaggerates a little, but he needs to do that to reassure his people," said Hazem, a 25-year-old security guard in Cairo. "Of course he knows that he is talking to the American soldiers as well, so his words are part of the psychological war that's going on."

Abdul-Aziz, a Saudi writer who would not give his last name, said: "Sahaf is vulgar but he is a brave liar... If the rest of the Iraqi government or army were this brave, they would inflict many more losses on U.S. and British forces."

The view is different in the United States and Britain.

"With regard to the information coming out of Baghdad, spin is all very well and to be expected but it has to keep links with reality," said Rear Admiral Richard Cobbold, director of the Royal United Services Institute think-tank.

Sahaf was Iraq's foreign minister for almost a decade and ambassador to India, Italy and the United Nations.

Although on good terms with Saddam, and a member of his Baath party, there is no love lost between him and the president's son, Uday.

Saddam removed Sahaf as foreign minister in April 2001 and put him in charge of the Information Ministry after Uday's newspaper criticized him.

Publication of Uday's newspaper was suspended for several weeks after Sahaf took up his new job.

EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN's policy is to not report information that puts operational security at risk.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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