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‘Saddam’ safe in sunny California

Sacramento (California), March 19 (Reuters): As the US prepares to go to war with Iraq, a man who looks just like Saddam Hussein proudly wanders the halls of California’s state capitol.

Jaded state legislators don’t even bat an eye when he appears to drop by their offices. They know it is actually Jerry Haleva, a savvy political insider with his own lobbying firm, Sergeant Major Communications, and a thriving sideline as Hollywood’s favourite double for Saddam Hussein.

If you have seen Saddam in a movie lately, you have may have seen Haleva. His screen credits include the spoofs Hot Shots and Hot Shots Deux, the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski, and the 2002 HBO mockumentary Live from Baghdad.

And no, it’s not just the makeup. Haleva really does bear a striking resemblance to the Iraqi leader, who is reputed to employ a number of doubles for security reasons.

“Especially when I’m in costume,” Haleva said, pointing to a headshot from Live from Baghdad. “You know all those posters and billboards in the movie' That was me as Saddam.”

Haleva’s film career started with a 1989 prank when he was a staffer for the legislature’s Republican minority leader. “The sergeant at arms saw this picture of Saddam addressing his troops. But he copied it and passed it around the Capitol with the caption: ‘Now we know what Haleva does on his weekends’.”

After the first Gulf War, the lobbyist became a hot property as his impersonator, both in movies and in person.

While waiting in costume at one convention, he met former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

“I shook his hand, and someone said: ‘I have got to get this picture!’,” he said.

Haleva used the photo in his firm’s marketing brochures with the caption: “If we can make this happen, how hard can your issue be'”

Haleva said his resemblance has been good for business. “It opens doors...and I have a lot of fun with it.”

The lobbyist clearly enjoys his impersonation work; he has a wall of mementoes, props, and photos with Hollywood stars.

But he also relishes the irony of being a pro-srael Jewish activist earning money by making fun of the Iraqi leader. Haleva dismissed concerns about his personal safety.

“During the first Gulf War, I took a friend’s advice and shaved off my moustache. But life’s too short — you can’t live in fear,” he said. “I don’t think anybody thinks I share any of Saddam’s views.” Haleva said he fully supports President Bush’s actions against Hussein, whom he described as pure evil.

“As an actor,” Haleva says, “I hope he goes into exile, and my career extends. But as an American, I hope I get to do his epitaph.”

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