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Saddam Hussein, Novelist

The Butcher of Baghdad writes a romance novel that (figuratively) sets the Iraqi literary establishment on fire.

11:01 PM, Nov 7, 2001 • By ELIZABETH ROYAL
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SADDAM HUSSEIN HAS BEEN ACCUSED of many things over the years, but a recent report suggests he's clearly been misunderstood. If the Iraqi dictator is guilty of anything, it's hopeless romanticism. Yes, underneath a seemingly tyrannical nature, there lives a passionate soul yearning to share his deepest, most delicate and intimate thoughts. Saddam has written a romance novel.

Released earlier this year, "Zabibah and the King" appears to have won the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people and made Saddam Hussein a best-selling novelist--according to the Iraq Press it has been "selling out of Iraqi bookstores" and there are already over 1,000,000 copies in print. In this tale of unrequited love, Zabibah (symbol of the Iraqi people) is a beautiful but poor heroine who is married to a vicious man (the decadent West) and ends up falling in love with a mighty king (Saddam).

The king imparts his inner self to Zabibah, his insecurities, even his anger and frustration. But the love affair is too good to last. One night while leaving the king's palace after a chaste encounter, Zabibah is kidnapped, taken to the forest and raped by the husband she no longer loves. Afterwards, Zabibah says to herself, "Rape is the most serious of crimes, whether it is a man raping a woman or invading armies raping the homeland or the usurpation of rights." Learning of the crime, the king declares war on Zabibah's husband and both she and her estranged husband are killed during battle on January 17--the anniversary of the start of Desert Storm.

The king goes on to establish a parliamentary system in order to modernize the regime, but sadly learns that his efforts are in vain. The members of the assembly are dishonest, greedy, and corrupt. One speaker in particular, Nouri Chalabi (a sly reference to Ahmad Chalabi, the leader of the London-based opposition to Saddam), is removed from office after he disgraces his people by not defending the country. The bizarre story ends when the king dies, is buried, and the military deputies cheer, "Long Live Zabibah! Long live the people! Long live the army!" There is no mention of the king.

This rather unsubtle allegory caused the CIA to pick up a copy in a London shop, and dissect it for encoded messages or possible threats. Although "Zabibah and the King" was written anonymously, there's little question of its authorship. Saddam announced last year that he was planning to write a novel, and the introduction explains that the author "did not wish to put his name on it out of humility, like the sons of Iraq who sacrifice their lives and their valuables and never talk about their great deeds." Sensitive literary critics at the New York Times reported that "Saddam's style, sentence structure and expressions are clearly present." Some have speculated that Saddam commandeered several ghost writers. But the opening paragraph reads, "What is more wondrous and delightful than heroines and the level of great deeds, and even miracles in Iraq." Surely no ghost writer could conjure such prose.

If you can't find a copy of this tragic love story at Borders, don't worry--the BBC reports that the state-run Iraqi TV station has recently announced that Saddam's book will become a 20-part television miniseries. And for those of you vacationing in Iraq later this winter, you won't want to miss the Baghdad theater's newest play: "Zabibah and the King." Get your tickets fast--the Iraqi government has already picked up 1,000,000 and is bussing in fans from all over the country.

Elizabeth Royal is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.