Saddam Images Omnipresent at Birthday Bash

ByABC News
April 27, 2002, 2:16 PM

B A G H D A D, Iraq, April 29 -- New portraits of the man who has ruled Iraq for more than 20 years went up on street corners across the country, cakes were distributed in small towns and a state-run television station was renamed Birthday Television just for the occasion.

But of the birthday boy himself, the seemingly indomitable Saddam Hussein, who turned 65 on Sunday, there was no sign.

Saddam himself does not attend his birthday celebrations, but officials of his Baath party were out in numbers, joining tens of thousands of Iraqis on the streets of Baghdad in choreographed rage against Washington's stated aim of overthrowing the Iraqi dictator.

The massive birthday celebrations came amid reports that the Bush administration, despite its failure to win Arab support for any military action in Iraq, was drawing up plans for a possible invasion early next year.

The contingency plans being considered included a major air campaign and ground invasion, involving the use of 70,000 to 250,000 troops, according to a report in the New York Times on Sunday.

But in the capital of Baghdad, Saddam is omnipresent. There he is, on just about every street corner, the mustachioed leader smiling out from a 20-foot high poster or cast as a bronze statue, one arm stretched toward his people.

There is a museum in Baghdad dedicated to Saddam, filled with paintings of his likeness, guns and gifts he has received from foreign leaders and one room detailing the history of his life photos of the house where he was born, his first school report card and the images of his rise to power.

In the Al-Rashid Hotel, where most foreign journalists stay, dozens of Saddam Hussein portraits have been placed temporarily on display. For those of us too young to have missed the personality cults of Vladimir Lenin or Mao Zedong, it is a shocking sight.

All the Worlds a Stage

The 65th birthday celebrations, which included the cutting of a giant pink birthday cake in Saddam's home town of Tikrit, is the reason so many of us in the foreign press were finally granted visas to enter this country.