Is Al-Sahhaf an Unwitting Turncoat?

He did in his brother-in-law. Did he do in Saddam?

Al-Sahhaf: spinning the unspinnable
Al-Sahhaf: spinning the unspinnable

The press can’t get enough of Mohammed Saeed “God is grilling their stomachs in hell” al-Sahhaf, Iraq’s magical-realist minister of information, who today, according to Agence France Presse, called on the United States to “surrender or be burned in their tanks.” This morning brought al-Sahhaf profiles by Reuters and the Associated Press and al-Sahhaf columns by Dale McFeatters of Scripps Howard and Ashraf Khalil of the San Francisco Chronicle. The Chicago Tribune had two al-Sahhaf pieces (click here for a feature by Hugh Dellios, here for a commentary by Leonard Pitts). We learned that al-Sahhaf is a Shiite (out of favor in this regime, even though Shiites are in the majority), that he came to power by ratting out his brother-in-law, and that, on one documented occasion, he actually got it right while the U.S. Central Command got it wrong. Can a Washington Post“Style” section piece and a New Yorker“Talk of the Town” essay be far behind? (For Chatterbox’s own previous contribution—a canvass of public-relations professionals on al-Sahhaf’s technique—click here.)

In the April 8 New York Times, Bernard Weinraub relates what may be the reason (or a reason) for al-Sahhaf’s fanciful assertions that Iraq is on the verge of victory. Saddam’s son Qusai may actually think they’re true! Weinraub describes an extreme example of nobody wanting give the boss bad news:

The American officials who monitor the conversations of the Iraqi military and listen tothe command-and-control systems said that Iraqi generals speaking to Qusay over satellite phones and other communications devices generally talk about high American casualties and defeats of the allied forces in various cities.They have also claimed, the officials said, that American forces were turned back at the international airport on the edge of Baghdad.“He’s being told by his cronies, by military officers, by political appointees, they have control of the airport,” said one American officer who has listened to the transmissions. “They say, `We’re ready, we’re fighting, we’re moving to attack.’ He’s being told lies.”

Meanwhile, according to one report—Chatterbox found it only in the London Evening Standard, and, mystifyingly, it isn’t on its Web page—al-Sahhaf may have helped the United States inadvertently in pinpointing the location of Saddam and his sons for yesterday’s missile strike:

Overnight intercepts suggest that the information minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, could be the key to how Saddam was found. His movements could have been tracked by special forces—and they may even have been able to flick a microdot tracking device on to his Ba’ath party uniform.

Chatterbox is a sucker for microdots, a common leitmotif in spy thrillers during Chatterbox’s youth. Is the Evening Standard account credible? No less so than al-Sahhaf’s briefings.