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U.S. Behaves Much Like Saddam, Spoils Birthday Celebrations


Reuters, Tikrit, Iraq, Oct. 6, 2002

It was not enough to bomb his palaces, smash up his statues and kick him out of power. U.S. troops on Monday also ruined Saddam Hussein's hometown birthday party. In Tikrit, dozens of die-hard loyalists danced and sang of their passion for Saddam, parading a homemade cake and oil painting of the former leader through their neighborhood backstreets. Young girls in bright red dresses jumped on the spot holding up portraits of him and chanted: 'We will sacrifice our souls and blood for Saddam Hussein.' But the small-scale street parties for Saddam, born 66 years ago just outside the town, were short-lived - broken up by U.S. Bradley fighting vehicles and soldiers patrolling with M-16 rifles. 'We only want to celebrate peacefully,' primary school teacher Sabahan Harez, 50, said. 'Where is the freedom of expression the Americans boast so much about.'

With helicopters circling low overhead, troops searched vehicles at checkpoints of barbed wire and tanks throughout the town, backing up traffic in lines of up to 100 vehicles. One soldier hacked the face out of a Saddam mosaic portrait with a pick axe, while others raced around the town of neat palm tree-lined roads, whitewashing from walls the 'Saddam Lives' and 'Bush is a Dog' graffiti. in Tikrit, residents say they adore their benefactor, grateful for the town's clean, well-paved roads, electricity and free schools. They did not join the soldiers in tearing down Saddam's cult-like portraits which until the war adorned every lamppost along town's main avenue. Asked Saddam's whereabouts, the common refrain in Tikrit was 'in the people's hearts.'

Most believe he is alive, hiding somewhere inside Iraq and hope he returns to power one day and to his hometown palace where statues of him on horseback brandishing a sword still top the ornate entrance gates. 'We need Saddam back,' Fidah Mahmoud, a 49-year-old mother, said. 'Only Saddam can control the Iraqi people and give us security.' Tikrit was the last major town American troops took over in their invasion of Iraq, but there was no major last stand from his loyalists.