'Baghdad Bob' and His Ridiculous, True Predictions

Ten years later, Iraq's insane-sounding information minister turns out to be quite the soothsayer.
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Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf speaks during news conference in Baghdad on March 24, 2003. (Reuters)

In March of 2003, Saddam's Minister of Information was everybody's favorite inadvertent comedian. Sporting a kicky black beret and delightfully bombastic lexicon, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf appeared on TV daily to predict American failure and deny the Baghdad invasion--sometimes even as U.S. tanks appeared behind him. "He's great," President George W. Bush said of Sahaf, admitting that he occasionally interrupted meetings to watch Sahaf's briefings. "Someone accused us of hiring him and putting him there. He was a classic."

Sahaf became the subject of T-shirts, mugs, adoring websites, a pop song, and an action figure. Besides adding levity to news cycles otherwise filled with fuzzy green explosions, Sahaf represented everything that made Iraq's invasion seem not quite like a real war. Wars are serious, and this guy was adorable. Even if you opposed the Iraq invasion, you had to admit it's hard to respect a government whose official mouthpiece told a reporter, "Shock and awe? It seems that we are the awe on them. They are suffering from the shock and awe, okay?"

"My information was correct, but my interpretations were not," he explained. But in retrospect, the opposite seems truer.

Sahaf stuck to his post--and his story--until the day before Baghdad fell. Then he surrendered to American forces, was interrogated and promptly released, suggesting a lowly spot on the Ba'ath party totem pole. He surfaced in Abu Dhabi in July of 2003, gave a couple of interviews, and settled into obscurity.

"My information was correct, but my interpretations were not," he explained.

But in retrospect, the opposite seems truer. Sahaf had bad information, sure, but several of his more ludicrous predictions have since come true--some in the ways he meant, and, more chillingly, some in ways no one (else) could have foreseen.

Sahaf's nickname, "Baghdad Bob," now denotes someone who confidently declares what everyone else can see is false--someone so wrong, it's funny. But when read beside the eventual cost of America's decade in Iraq, "Baghdad Bob" isn't so funny anymore.

THE PREDICTION:

"The crook Rumsfeld said yesterday that they are hunting mass destruction weapons in Baghdad and Tikrit, and yesterday I replied to that cheap lie."

"I assure you that those villains will recognize, will discover in appropriate time in the future how stupid they are and how they are pretending things which have never taken place."

THE REALITY

As a 2012 CIA study concluded definitively, Saddam Hussein didn't have weapons of mass destruction. Nor did Iraq have 18 mobile laboratories for making anthrax and botulism, as Secretary of State Colin Powell claimed before the United Nations in February 2003, nor had Saddam Hussein recently tried to buy large quantities of uranium from Africa, as President Bush asserted in his 2003 State of the Union address. A decade of war was based on things that had never taken place.

THE PREDICTION

"They are trying to say that the Iraqi is easy to capture, in order to deceive the world that it is a picnic... One day, they [will] start facing bitter facts."

"The decisive battle is throughout Iraq. They do not know in what mud they are wading."

THE REALITY

In 2002, Kenneth Adelman, a member of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, wrote in the Washington Post, "I believe demolishing Hussein's military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk. Let me give simple, responsible reasons: (1) It was a cakewalk last time; (2) they've become much weaker; (3) we've become much stronger; and (4) now we're playing for keeps."

Wars are serious, and this guy was adorable.

Adelman was right that beating Hussein's military power would be easy-ish, though it took longer than George Bush Sr.'s 100-hour incursion in 1991. What Adelman didn't realize--and Sahaf did--was that occupation, not invasion, would be the bitter pill. Result: not a picnic.

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Emily DePrang is a reporter for The Texas Observer.

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