Come back, Mr. Information Minister. We need laughs.
The guy in the beret and glasses taught the world how to take the art of spin over the top
Memo to: Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, former Iraqi information minister.
Where have you been this past month, Comical Ali? We need you.
Rumor has it you've been holed up in Baghdad, trying to surrender to uninterested US troops. But if the Pentagon is turning up its nose, bypassing you for the 55 "most wanted," you might be surprised at how many fans you have in some unexpected places.
Even President Bush, whom you labeled the "insane little dwarf," has called you "his man" and said he used to walk out of meetings just to hear you spout colorful diatribes about roasting stomachs, infidels, and, of course, that oh-so-confident assurance - "triple guaranteed" - that no American soldiers were in Baghdad.
But, really, what could you say? You had the world's worst public-relations job - not to mention a murderous boss. And, in an age of spin, you gave a graduate-level lesson to PR flacks everywhere, sticking to your story no matter how overwhelming the evidence against it - and throwing in lots of flair for good measure.
In your jaunty beret and glasses, before a sea of microphones, you fought a high-tech army with a torrent of phrases.
So, despite your role as spokesman for a brutal regime, is it any surprise that those phrases - and your face - are plastered on T-shirts, coffee mugs, and websites? Even a dance mix, featuring your catchphrases, is in the works.
Herobuilders.com offers Baghdad Bob action figures in two varieties: dumb and dumber. (The latter includes a voice chip that repeats your most beloved phrases.) Orders for both are backlogged at least four weeks. The company's founder has received so many he's lost count, but says it's in the tens of thousands.
That's nothing compared to your fans at the website, WeLoveTheIraqiInformation Minister.com. Fewer visit now than at the height of your misinformation spouting, it's true, but it still gets about 50,000 people a day - and the public hasn't even seen you for a month. The website's popularity with everyone from troops in Iraq to German pacifists shut down three servers before the site's creators found one that could handle the traffic. Porn sites and wedding planners have even coopted URLs with similar spellings, hoping to get spillover visitors.
Conn Nugent, one of the founders, is a particular admirer of your flair for language - some of the most "colorful and creative and hurtfully funny" he says he's ever seen. It's that eccentric vocabulary, of course, that attracted many of your devoted viewers. They wondered what you'd call Americans next: "Wild donkeys?" "Louts of colonialism?"
As Mr. Nugent points out, nobody tinkers their schedules to make sure they don't miss the next Ari Fleicher briefing.
But your appeal also lies in your determination. Lots of people, after all, get stuck trying to sell something people don't particularly like. But few do it with your over-the-top panache and utter disregard for the facts. Even as the US troops were rolling into Baghdad, you declared that "they have started to commit suicide" and promised that Iraqis "slaughtered them in the airport."
A tribute on Nugent's site says it well. Your message, it says, was "consistent - unshakeable, in fact, no matter what the evidence." You stand, it concludes, "superior to truth."
It is not surprising, then, that your quotes filled PR listservs and that cartoonists and columnists everywhere have invoked your style, suggesting you as a mouthpiece for everything from President Bush's tax cut to losing sports teams.
Supposedly, you have a job offer at al-Arabiya satellite channel in Saudi Arabia, but we hope you'll consider options here as well. Just think of all the corporations who want to pretend their accounting fraud never happened, or the governors who could use someone to say, "Budget problem? What budget problem? It is all lies, lies, lies from villainous cowards!"