December 19, 2003 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 155

Conspiracy Theories Surrounding Saddam's Capture

December 19, 2003 | By Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli*
Iraq | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 155

Almost every calamity that adversely affects the Arab world prompts conspiracy theories that are quickly woven into intricate shapes and patterns, to demonstrate innocence and blame others for the calamity. In recent times this was demonstrated by conspiracy theories surrounding the September 11th attack and the terrorist attacks inside Saudi Arabia. The capture of Saddam Hussein served as yet another new cause celebre generating, to paraphrase Saddam's own words, 'the mother of all conspiracies.'

The origins of conspiracies in Arab history is traced in the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, by columnist Mushari Al-Dhayidi, to the time of the third Muslim Caliph Othman bin 'Affan, whose murder in the seventh century has been subject to numerous conspiracy theories over the centuries. According to Al-Dhayidi, this historical event indicates "the spread of the conspiratorial nerve which attacks everything, including the minds of historians who are supposed to carry out precise scientific studies rather than the spreading of myths or even their creation, if necessary, as it is the case of [tens] of alleged historical conspiracies which are yet to be uncovered." Al- Dhayidi mentions the myths that the Israeli Mossad or the C.I.A was responsible for September 11; that there was a special American military unit that was responsible for the bombing of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon to allow President Bush to carry out his designs against the Muslim world; and that America was responsible for the bombings in Riyadh, as evidenced by their warning that such an attack was forthcoming. Another conspiracy deals with Osama bin Laden's alleged treatment in a hospital under the supervision of the C.I.A., because he operates on its behalf. [1]

Conspiracies Regarding the Capture of Saddam

No sooner than Saddam had been captured, and the manner in which he was captured, than conspiracy theories have found their way to the Arab media. His supporters in Iraq and in the Arab world were shocked to see that Saddam, who they were led to believe for decades was "the knight of knights, courageous and gallant," appeared on television screens meek, defeated, and humiliated, without putting up a fight as his two sons and teenager grandson had done against enormous odds.

A Conspiracy Theory about the Drugging of Saddam

Saddam's sister, Nawal Ibrahim Al-Hassan, speaking on the phone with Al-Quds Al-Arabi from an unidentified Arab capital, was the first to raise the conspiracy of drugging. She said her brother "could not have surrendered in this fashion unless he was subjected to anesthetization or nerve gas that has paralyzed his movements." She added: "If he were in full command of his mental capacity he would have resisted to [the] death. He is not one of the people who would surrender in such a disgraceful manner." [2]

Saddam's eldest daughter, Raghad, echoed similar sentiments. In an interview with Al-Arabiyya TV, Raghdad said: "It is clear to everybody that our father was drugged… when they described to me the details of his condition, I said to them it is impossible. He has to be drugged." [3]

A Conspiracy Theory Involving President Bush's Interests

The Saudi daily Al-Riyadh believes that it is evident that there was a conspiracy. It wrote: "… it can be thought that Saddam was in the hands of the Americans, and that his public exposure was a show produced with the aim of neutralizing the explosive situation, so that it would be possible to ease the emotional and military pressure by the American forces and give new momentum to the American president just when he needs this kind of event…" [4]

A Conspiracy Theory Involving Saddam's Second Wife

The Saudi daily Okaz theorizes that Saddam's second wife, Samira Al-Shahbandar, who lives in Lebanon under a false identity with Saddam's only surviving son, Ali, may have been the source of information which led to Saddam's capture. "It is possible," writes Okaz, that "for delivering the head of her husband she will receive the award of $25 million," offered by the U.S. for information leading to Saddam's arrest or killing." [5]

Okaz's theory is allegedly supported by an interview with Samira Al-Shahbanar which fortuitously appeared in the Sunday Times of London on December 14 and appeared the subsequent day in the London-based Arabic daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat . [6] According to Al-Shabandar, Saddam has been in touch with her via phone approximately once per week. Okaz suspects that the conversations were tapped by the U.S. intelligence, and said that the last conversation was prolonged by Al-Shahbandar to give the Americans added time to pinpoint Saddam's hiding place. [7]

A Conspiracy Theory that Saddam was an American Agent

An editorial in the Iraqi daily Al-Shira' titled: "The Servant has Fallen in the Master's Cage" surveys Saddam's policies from 1963 until his capture, and suggests that he implemented these policies at the behest of his American masters. According to the newspaper, Saddam waged the war against Iran in 1980 to extricate the U.S. from its difficulties with Iran. The occupation of Kuwait in 1990 gave America and Israel "everything they were dreaming and not dreaming of," including elimination of the Palestinian problem, deepening the American presence in the Gulf to ensure American control over the sources of Arab oil, allowing Israel to penetrate Arab capital, and eliminating the regional role of Iraq and creating an imbalance of power between the Arabs and their enemies so that Iraq is delivered as a free gift to America.

The last service provided by this "super servant" was to surrender as "a free service to America, and Bush in particular, in disgraceful pictures that would be used as stickers in the election campaign…." [8]

A Conspiracy Theory of Saddam as a Prisoner of His Supporters

The advocates of this conspiracy theory argue that Saddam was kidnapped by his supporters after he issued his last audio message on November 16, and was imprisoned in the spider hole where he was found three weeks later. This would explain his unkempt appearance and his willingness to surrender to the American soldiers, whom he considered as "saviors." The adherents of this theory point to the fact that Saddam's hair was black, which suggests that he was not in the spider hole for very long otherwise grey hair would have become noticeable. [9]

The Mother of All Conspiracy Theories

The mother of all conspiracy theories is woven by Abd Al-Bari Atwan, the Editor-in-Chief of the London-based Arabic daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi - the one daily, aside from Saddam's regime dailies, which no longer exist, that has remained loyal to "President Saddam Hussein." [10]

For Atwan, "The U.S. and its mighty propaganda machine are involved in a disinformation campaign that reaches the level of terrorism" to mislead public opinion. Here is his evidence in four parts:

First, the pictures distributed by the Americans about Saddam's hideout show a palm tree behind the soldier who uncovered the hole where Saddam was hiding. The palm tree carried a cluster of pre-ripened yellow dates, which might suggest that Saddam was arrested at least three months earlier, because dates ripen in the summer months when they turn into their natural black or brown color. Atwan concludes that the arrest was "a staged show and the place of arrest [was] completely elsewhere. [11]

Second, if there were two rooms connected with the hole in which Saddam was captured, what explains the fact, asks Atwan, that Saddam "appeared filthy and looked like a man who did not bathe in weeks, if not in months."

Third, statements about Saddam's alleged cooperation were contradictory. Ambassador Paul Bremer said that Saddam was cooperating, while Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that he was not.

Fourth, Atwan alleges that there were bruises on Saddam's face and over his brow. In addition, Saddam behaved like a robot while he was being examined. The videos showed Saddam touching his cheeks but Atwan was able to surmise that Saddam was probing his face "as if he just woken up from coma." This led Atwan to suggest that the probing may be due to the use of nerve gas while Saddam's hideout was being raided, not unlike the gas used by the Russians against the Chechen rebels who took over the Bolshoi Palace [theatre] and which paralyzed them for hours. The alleged use of gas may explain why Saddam did not resist, and hence there is a need for "impartial experts…to analyze the dirt in the hideout and the surrounding area to reveal the truth." [12]


In his article, mentioned earlier, Al-Dhayidi concludes: "The time has come for us to read the history and the present as it happened and as it happens, not as we wish it to happen. These thick layers of illusions and lies that have surrounded our minds for too long and concealed from us the light and the air are our biggest enemy. Our real enemy is our ignorance. Worst yet - it is our cheerfulness and appreciation for this ignorance. We are the product of our history. And we are those who carried out [the attacks of] September 11 and subsequently May 12 [2003], and last but not least we are those who blew up the Muhaya quarters [in Riyadh], not the Mossad and not Ibn Saba [a mythical figure allegedly involved in the murder of the third Caliph]. Let us stop drinking dirty water because it will not satisfy our thirst no matter how much more we drink [of it]." [13]

* Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli is Senior Analyst of MEMRI's Middle East Economic Studies Program.

[1] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 16, 2003.

[2] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), December 16, 2003.

[3] Interview in Arabic with Raghad Hussein, daughter of Saddam Hussein. Al-Arabiyya News, December 16, 2003.

[4] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), December 15, 2003.

[5] Okaz (Saudi Arabia), December 15, 2003.

[6] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 15, 2003.

[7] Al-Zaman (Iraq), December 14, 2003 reports from American sources that no telephone was found during Saddam's arrest.

[8] Al-Shira' (Baghdad) December 17, 2003.

[9] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 17, 2003.

[10] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), December 17, 2003.

[11] An agricultural expert told the London-based Arabic daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat that there are some types of dates which mature in the winter months after rainfalls (December 17, 2003). Also, as anyone with any experience with palm trees would know that some trees do not pollinate properly and the date remains yellow and inedible and is usually used as animal feed.

[12] Abd Al-Bari Atwan has been a consistent and vocal supporter of Saddam's regime as well as of what he still refers to as "Sheikh" [a religious leader] Osama bin Laden. The relationship between Atwan's newspaper and its sources of funding are not known. What is known for certain is that his newspaper, which is a commercial paper, does not accept advertisements, and questions have always been raised in the Arab press as to how a paper with a relatively small circulation can afford offices in a big building in London without accepting advertisements. On December 7, 2003 the Egyptian weekly October said:"The one known as Abd Al-Bari Atwan is a mercenary journalist, one of Saddam's mercenaries who defended him with their bodies and soul! And they still do so to this very day out of loyalty and greed."

[13] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 17, 2003.

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