Nicosia, March 19: In the hours before President George W. Bush issued his final ultimatum to Saddam Hussein, Iraqi television viewers were treated to an evening of joyous patriotic celebrations.
The broadcast exuded the atmosphere of the Titanic on its last, fateful night.
Not once was there a suggestion that Iraq was sinking into war. Peace demonstrations around the world and Robin Cook’s resignation were reported, but there was no public service information of the sort expected before a conflict.
Clips of Iraqis mouthing platitudes of loyalty to their leader were interspersed with footage going back to Saddam’s earliest days in power.
Time and again he appeared on horseback, reflecting the image that he likes to cultivate as a leader in the tradition of the valiant and noble Arab knight.
The backdrop was a programme of smiling performers promising Saddam life-long loyalty.
“You have led Iraq to great victories on the battlefield, oh brave warrior, Saddam,” recited one headscarved poetess.
When the programme cut to a studio announcer, it seemed that Iraqis might at last be told of the fate awaiting them. But it turned out to be the latest results from Iraq’s handball league.