by Cam McGrath
(IPS) CAIRO --
released video footage of Saddam Hussein has rekindled the debate over the Iraqi leader's fate, and is adding new twists to conspiracy theories circulating on Egyptian streets.
Abu Dhabi TV aired two previously unseen videos Friday, showing Saddam giving a speech and appearing on the crowded streets of Baghdad. On the face of it, Saddam seems somewhat embarrassed by all the adulation he receives.
"Your leadership is not shaken," Saddam assures the crowd. "Not now, not in the future, it will remain just as it has always been."
Abu Dhabi TV has refused to say where it obtained the videotapes, but said it was told both tapes were shot on April 9, the day U.S tanks pulled down a massive statue of Saddam in central Baghdad.
The station said the crowd scenes were filmed in Al-Azamiyah district, a predominantly Sunni neighborhood in northern Baghdad that had not yet fallen to U.S. forces at that time.
The purported date of the tapes is critical. If they were indeed shot on April 9 and the person shown is Saddam Hussein, it would prove that the Iraqi leader survived a U.S. bombing on April 7 that targeted a building in which he was reportedly meeting senior officers.
It would also knock out the most popular conspiracy theory, which purports that Saddam was spirited out of Iraq in a Russian diplomatic convoy April 6. The convoy came under fire when leaving the city, but reached the Syrian border the following day, the story goes.
Conspiracy motives flourish along side of conspiracy theories. "The Americans didn't want another Vietnam, so they struck a deal with the Russians to take Saddam out of Iraq," says silversmith Mohammed Ibrahim. "That's why there was only light resistance when American forces entered Baghdad."
The Abu Dhabi TV footage has no definitive time stamp, though the smoke in the background could indicate it was filmed after the commencement of the military strikes. Washington suspects Saddam broadcast pre-recorded videos of his appearances during the war. The Iraqi leader is also rumored to have many doubles to foil assassination attempts.
Arab newspapers offered eyewitness accounts that seemed to confirm the authenticity of the latest videos. The Al-Hayat pan-Arab daily quoted witnesses as saying that Saddam appeared near a mosque in Al-Azamiyah around noon April 9. They said he arrived in a motorcade of black Mercedes cars, accompanied by his son Qusay and his personal bodyguard, and urged defiance against invading U.S. forces.
"It was obviously his double," says Reda Mohammed, a bank clerk. "Saddam escaped to Syria earlier and is using his double to throw Americans off the trail."
He points out that Iraqi TV aired a similar video, said to have been shot April 7. The tape, which shows Saddam greeting Iraqis in the streets of Baghdad, was the first occasion in more than a decade where the leader was seen to mingle with people.
"Isn't it strange how after April 7 we start seeing Saddam in public?" says Mohammed. "That's how I knew (the real) Saddam had finally left the country. The Americans are chasing his double."
Bus driver Emad Fathy disagrees. He is certain the video is exactly what it purports to be and that Saddam is still holed up in Baghdad.
"Maybe Saddam has a double, but does his son Qusay have a double?" he wonders. "Saddam might flee Iraq, but he won't leave Baghdad without his son. He is hiding out and waiting for the right time to reappear."
Fathy supports the theory that Saddam has taken asylum in the Russian Embassy. He says Russia has close links with Saddam's regime and is afraid they will be exposed. The embassy reportedly shred incriminating documents and sent dossiers back to Moscow.
"That's what was in the diplomatic convoy," he says. "But they need Saddam. If anything happens to him, his officers would reveal their (Russia's) hand."
Another theory suggests that Saddam and his two sons were killed in the U.S. bombing of a building in Al-Mansour neighborhood on April 7 and that Washington has tried to hide the truth.
Proponents of this scenario say the bombings of Al-Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV offices April 8 were an attempt to silence the Arab media, which might have exposed the cover-up. Three journalists were killed in the bombing, which the Pentagon said was a grave mistake.
"The killing of members of the media was part of a plan requiring that there should be no witnesses or recording equipment," says Ibrahim Nafie, editor of the semi-independent Al-Ahram Weekly. "Evidence for this includes the fact that the aerial bombardment of Baghdad stopped as of Monday (April 7) evening -- something the Jordanian journalist Tarek Ayyoub pointed out prior to his death."
A marketing specialist, who gave her name as Nahla, believes the U.S. knew that once they killed Saddam, the Iraqi military would collapse. However, it wanted to create the illusion that the Iraqi leader was still alive to serve the State Department's political agenda in the region.
"As long as people think he is alive they can use him as an excuse to attack any Arab country," she says. "First they will say Saddam is in Syria, then they will say he went to Sudan." And all the while, the theories rise one after the other; they seem to be going nowhere.
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