| Former Iraqi information minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf: Butt of all jokes (Reuters)
Have you heard the one about Saddam Hussein' In a land where jokes about the president once were punishable by death, the collapse of Saddam’s regime is allowing Iraqis to make fun of their former leader.
Like everything else in Iraq right now, the jokes don’t work as well as they should. There has been little to laugh about in a quarter-century of brutal dictatorship, so the Iraqis’ sense of humour is a little rusty. But they’re trying.
A doctoral student offered this one: Saddam and one of his flunkies go bird-hunting. The flunky shoots a bird on the first try, but the dictator misses two and becomes enraged. When Saddam misses the third, his companion tells the boss he really did hit the bird, despite the evidence. “My God, it’s dead,” he tells Saddam, “but still flying!”
In many of these jokes, heard in the shops and streets of Baghdad, Saddam always has to be right, even when he is wrong. While meeting with the Cabinet one day, goes another joke, Saddam issues a bizarre proclamation: “The elephant has wings to fly!” After the meeting, someone asks Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, one of Saddam’s top deputies, “Is it true elephants have wings'” “Elephants fly,” he replies, “just not very high!”
Many of the jokes mention high officials by name. Some refer to Saddam’s sudden collapse. By Western standards, most barely elicit a chuckle. In Iraq, they bring guffaws. One refers to the West’s favourite humour target, information minister Mohammed Said al-Sahhaf. As a statue of Saddam is being pulled down, a journalist asks, “Is Saddam falling'” “No,” al-Sahaf insists, “that’s someone who looks like Saddam.”
Even the dirty jokes aren’t that dirty. In one, Saddam’s wife, Sajida, tells al-Douri to come to her house at midnight for a tryst and to show up wearing nothing. Al-Douri arrives at the appointed hour in the buff, and who answers the door but Saddam himself. Thinking on his feet, al-Douri, who never makes a decision without checking with the boss, explains: “I just wanted to know what I should wear tomorrow!”
Some in Baghdad still give a nervous look when asked for a joke. One man said this is no time for jokes, with no power, no water, no jobs. Another said of Saddam, “He is a joke, himself.”
The war’s quick end provided some fresh material, a sign that Baghdad’s best humour lies ahead.