| Clowns outside the US embassy in Mexico City demanding an end to the war in Iraq. (AP/PTI)
Washington, March 30: If anyone thought that the golden age of political jokes ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the East bloc, think again. The war in Iraq has revived them all over again.
In the early days of the US attack on Iraq, when the euphoria over America’s sway over Baghdad’s skies brought hopes of an early capitulation by Saddam Hussein’s forces, war jokes spawned in drawing rooms and other venues of social chatter here. The most popular one came after US television networks showed pictures of Iraqi soldiers surrendering with raised hands in Safwan, close to the border with Kuwait.
“Have you heard about the Iraqi army’s new exercise programme'”
“No. What is it'”
The first American replies: “Raise your hands above your head and keep them there.”
Another one is about the “shock and awe” air campaign over Baghdad, which left civilians and non-military structures intact, at least in the first few days of the war.
The joke goes: “How do Iraqis play bingo in these days of war'”
The answer: “F-16, B-52, B-1”, obviously trying to guess the American planes which have dropped the latest bombs.
Foreigners or those opposed to the war may find the jokes insensitive and inappropriate, but they reflected the popular belief here in the Bush administration’s propaganda that Iraq would be a walkover with its population rising in revolt to welcome the Americans. It also reflected a childlike faith in the administration’s contention that precision bombing would leave civilians untouched. Both perceptions are slowly changing in the second week of fighting.
When Scud missiles started flying in the direction of Kuwait, only to be intercepted by US Patriot missiles, there was amusement here both about the notorious inaccuracy of Scuds and the poor quality of Iraq’s missile launchers. One cartoon showed a camel sitting on the sand near Iraq’s border with Kuwait. Loaded on to the animal’s mouth was a Scud missile.
Standing behind the camel was an Iraqi soldier with a huge hammer about to strike the camel on its back. The caption for the cartoon read: “Scud missile launcher”. With one missile hitting Kuwait yesterday, many days after the US-led forces established their supremacy over southern Iraq, the cartoonist may have second thoughts.
Much to the distaste of Americans, a rare defence of Saddam in the western hemisphere has come from Brazilian football coach Jorge Vieira. Vieira coached Iraq’s national football team to qualify for their first and only World Cup finals in Mexico in 1986. Interviews with the coach are being lapped up here. In one such interview, Vieira said he and the Iraqi President first talked through an interpreter. But one day Saddam dispensed with the interpreter and started talking to the coach in Spanish. “I asked him why he had not talked in Spanish to me from the beginning. He said he first wanted to know me.… He told jokes, a lot of jokes. He is a human being like any other.”
Betting on Saddam’s future is big business as well. Especially on internet wager sites. Tradesports.com, where contracts on future events are available for $10, 79 per cent of clients betted the day after the first air raids on Baghdad, favouring the chance that Saddam would not be in office by March end. At the beginning of this month, those who bought contracts on such a proposition were just 20 per cent. The idea was posted at the site in September. Since then, it has sold contracts for $1 million.