The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- What if Saddam has been dead since early January'

Around 1980, Akira Kurosawa completed what was to be one of his most under-rated films — Kagemusha. The story of The Shadow Warrior ( as it was titled in English) is as powerful as it is simple. In the 16th century, during the criss-crossing wars among Japanese warlords, an army lays seige to an enemy fort. One moonless night, a sniper perched inside the fort lets off a musket at a hazy figure on the ground below, someone who might or might not be an important officer. The sniper and his commanders do not realize it, but the lucky shot finds the most valuable target possible — the warlord of the beseiging army himself.

The mortally wounded Daimyo dies in the palanquin rushing him away from the battle, leaving his generals in a quandary. Announcing the death of their fearsome leader would give great courage to the enemy, encouraging other Daimyos to form alliances against them. If, however, the death is not announced, at the next battle their own soldiers as well as the opposing army would want to know why the warlord wasn’t present, sitting on his customary war-throne at a high and visible vantage point.

At this moment, a petty thief is caught in the palace of the dead warlord. With shock, a general realizes that the thief is a dead ringer for the dead Daimyo himself. Instead of being beheaded, the thief is put into the warlord’s finest military dress. He is told to keep his mouth shut upon pain of death. Then, coached in the proper regal gestures of command, he is led to the high war-throne at the battlefield. His appearance causes terror among the opposing armies. As the generals bend down and whisper into his ear, the Kagemusha follows their instructions. A wave of his left hand sends thousands of infantry rushing down a hillside. A sweep of his right arm unleashes the cavalry. The enemy troops are routed. The thief realizes what it means to have a king’s face.

Watching the Iraq war unfold on my television, I could not but help remembering the puppet warlord’s mask. Here, despite the early attempt at “decapitation”, you had the many appearances of Saddam Hussein, or of someone — as BBCCNN insisted on qualifying each time — who may or may not have been Saddam, who may have been “one of Saddam’s many doubles”. Even now, at the time of this writing, there is no firm indication as to whether the S-man is alive or dead, whether he is in Damascus or in Moscow. This morning’s BBC had John Simpson trying to interview some Iraqis in Tikrit, where, after much journalistic wheel-spinning, he managed to elicit from the group that they were far from sure Saddam was actually gone. “He might come back after ten years,” said one man, and he wasn’t joking.

All of which brings me back to a thought I have been unable to shake off since the very beginning of this butchery: what if Saddam has been dead since early January, killed, jettisoned say, by his sons Uday and Qusay and his coterie of generals and ministers' What if this were actually conveyed to the Americans way before the “war” began' What then, if the Americans, promptly made U&Q and gang an offer they couldn’t refuse' An offer that went something like: “Okay, good of you to have axed him, but we still need this war. So here’s what you do. You pretend he’s still alive, and so do we. Keep the doubles active till such time as we tell you to stop. We’ll help you guys get out just before we start the bombing, but let’s leave one or two of the ‘regime’ behind, like that Sahaf guy for one, who makes a great buffoon on TV. Yes, you can take some money away with you, some. Like, maybe, 40 billion US dollars between the two of you, and, okay, a few million for the rest of your gang, but not a penny more…And, guys, remember. Daddy’s dead when we tell you he’s dead and not a moment before, do you hear'”

When I heard the Iraqi man talking to Simpson this morning it occurred to me that this un-killable fear of Saddam is much more useful to the Americans than it is to the Iraqis. Just as useful as running the background programme of an uncaptured Osama or Mullah Omar. Catch them or kill them, and produce their identifiable bodies, and you lose the main emotional reason for continuing the wars of conquest. But keep them alive as shadowy figures still capable of striking at the American public from some mythical hiding place and the theatre of profit can continue.

I realize that there is one potentially fatal flaw to this theory: it pre-supposes an American leader capable of subtlety and cunning, of patient long-term strategic thinking. But if you look hard at the television, this chink in the argument evaporates pretty rapidly.

The trick of using Kagemushas is not new. Hitler used look-alikes during World War II, as did Stalin and Chur- chill. One of the great subterfuges of that war is supposed to have been the use of a double of General Montgomery, a fake who made an extensive tour of northern Africa just before D-Day. This inspection tour apparently helped fool the Germans that the attack on France would come not from the British seaboard but from the allied armies across the Mediterranean. In other words, swarthy Arabs and Orientals hardly have a copyright on the concept of the double. Therefore, in a mirroring supposition, what if Saddam’s is not the only Kagemusha we are now seeing on TV' If sons can prop up the simulation of a father, why can’t a father and his cronies prop up the puppet of a son'

There are a number of points when the Daddy Gang could have done the switch. My personal favourite suspects are the following two moments. First, right after he was informed about the planes hitting the World Trade Center. During that long day when he was supposed to be on Air Force One, when everyone was wondering where he’d disappeared, Dubya was actually being replaced by one of the clones kept ready for an eventuality just such as this. “Heck, George, the kid can’t handle something as big as this! He’s cracking. We gotta do it!” “Don' Hate to say it, but I’m afraid you’re right. Though I’d kinda prefer that actor guy to the robot option…we need as much human factor as possible.” “ Roger, George, Wilco. Will you tell Barb and Jeb'”

Or, second, the plug got pulled when Dubya went on TV to say “I’m a lovin’ kind of guy.” “Son' What’s all this ‘lovin’ stuff'” “ Sorry Dad. Just kinda slipped out.” “It’s okay, son. You need a break. Mom and I want you to come home now.” “But, but, Dad! What about capturing the world'” “ Don’t you worry your head about that son. Dick, Don and me, we got it covered. You just come on back home.”

Just as the fake Saddam’s moustache, his odd spectacles, and the absence of his paunch were give-aways in the Baghdad videos, we have several clues from the White House and Camp David tapes. Notably, a close examination of the Camp David press conference with Tony Blair certainly indicates that the actor has now been replaced by the robot. This is where “Bush” goes into a loop, repeating: As long it takes. You gotta know that. As long as it takes. That’s something they gotta know. The answer is…As long as it takes. And so on. Experts I’ve spoken to are certain that the look of panic on Blair’s face comes from his trying desperately to press the correct buttons on the remote Oliver North has handed him just before the conference, though it should be stressed there is no confirmation of this.

At this point it may be useful to remind any Doubting Thomas that the first echo of Kurosawa’s Kagemusha was to be found in a two-bit actor called Ronald Reagan who began his presidency just as the film came out in the US. The man who was supposed to be pulling the strings of this affably lethal no-brain puppet was his vice president — a man called George Bush. The Original Daddy George is old but he’s still undead. And, just as Saddam may do, he might even have come back after ten years.

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