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Iraq TV

On the government-run television station in Iraq it was all Saddam, all the time. Even as his regime began to crumble.

7:30 PM, Mar 20, 2003 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Kuwait City

AS BOMBS EXPLODED throughout Iraq and allied forces began making their way across the Kuwait border, Iraqis who tuned into their nation's government-run satellite television channel were treated to a celebration of Saddam. One analysis said 70 percent of the programming Thursday was devoted to Saddam-worship. Movies recalled his bravery. Military officers praised his wisdom. Saddam himself--or perhaps one of his doubles--addressed the viewers.

His short talk was interrupted at least once when the picture abruptly switched from Saddam, dressed in his military uniform and sporting huge Jackie-O spectacles, to the color bars that used to appear when stations went off the air. Saddam quickly reappeared. Similar interruptions, presumably allied efforts to disrupt the regime's communications apparatus, took place throughout the course of the day on both television and radio.

The evening news led off with an editorial. "Saddam, you're the one who defeated Israel . . . you're the one who spoiled us. We will die for you."

Later, the satellite channel showed Iraqi citizens demonstrating--presumably on tape--in favor of the ruler who has terrorized them for 24 years. "We love our leader, Saddam Hussein," says one Iraqi. "We will never say 'yes' to America."

Iraqis are used to this propaganda, of course. No one believes for a moment that these demonstrators and interviewees are saying these things because they believe them.

"They are all fake demonstrations," an elderly Iraqi man now living in the United States told me recently. "Saddam sends his army men into the shops to get the people out. Three or four guys can get a big crowd. People have to do it, otherwise [the military] will report them as not enough supportive of the regime. And they know they will go to jail or maybe die."

That last fact--regular executions of those deemed not sufficiently sympathetic to the regime--is well known throughout Iraq. And it makes somewhat curious the order Saddam issued Thursday evening saying that deserters will be put to death.

Yes, there are pockets of support for Saddam inside of Iraq. And yes, Iraqis are nervous about the campaign to remove their dictator. One Iraqi-American I been in constant contact with, and who is strongly supportive of the war, asks me each time we talk whether I believe the United States will use nuclear weapons. He is concerned about his brother-in-law and his elderly mother-in-law in Baghdad, who are reluctant to leave the city.

Another Iraqi told of the preparations his brother and sister-in-law have made for the war. "He has saved one month worth of food, water, and energy," he said. ("Energy," he explained, is kerosene for both light and heat.) When I asked him how they obtained these items, thought to be in short supply in Iraq, he told me that he comes from a relatively wealthy family and that such goods are readily available on the black market for those who can afford them.

His brother's wife has been using some of their precious water for another purpose. "She started a garden, growing flowers," he explained, "so that she has something for the American soldiers when they arrive to Nasiriyah."

That story, like so many others, is impossible to verify. Cynics dismiss such anecdotes as exaggerated wishes of anti-Saddam Iraqis in exile. Are they right? Perhaps.

We'll know soon enough.

Stephen F. Hayes is staff writer for The Weekly Standard.