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Saddam Pays a Surprise Visit to New York for the End of Ramadan
Saddam helps himself to a cup of tea in the Hoboken apartment
NEW YORK Not to be outdone by President Bush visiting Iraq for Thanksgiving, Saddam Hussein flew into New York for a surprise visit to celebrate the end of Ramadan.
Saddam, the first Iraqi President to visit the United States, was the surprise guest at an end-of-Ramadan feast for a sleeper cell of two Iraqi shopkeepers and three Iraqi taxi drivers in an apartment in Hoboken, New Jersey. The Iraqis had been told that they would have a feast with an Islamic mullah. The mullah told the men that he would start by reading a message from Saddam, but he asked "is there is anybody back there more senior than me" to read the words. Out stepped Saddam from the kitchen, to whoops and hoo-hahs from the shopkeepers and taxi drivers.
"I was just looking for a warm meal," said Saddam. "I only eat cold Spam in my bunker in Tikrit."
In one of the most secretive trips by an Iraqi leader, even for one who has evaded the entire US Army for seven months, Saddam started his journey early one morning riding a camel, designated Camel One while he was on board. He transferred outside Tikrit to a Toyota Land Cruiser, designated Toyota One, for the dusty trip to Baghdad airport. There, he boarded an Iraqi air force hot air balloon, designated Mother of all Dirigibles. With the lights out, the hot air balloon made the dangerous lift off from Baghdad airport, and floated for weeks until reaching Kennedy airport and making an even more dangerous descent into the crowded airspace.
The trip was so secretive that Saddam did not tell his two sons he was making the trip.
Security was almost breached when a British Airways jet came close to the balloon. "Is that Mother of all Dirigibles?" radioed an alert British Airways pilot.
"No," replied Saddam's balloonist. "It's Richard Branson trying to set a new around-the-world record." "Oh, OK," said the BA pilot.
At the feast, Saddam served the guests humus and foot of calf, and posed for photographs.
"It was a real morale booster," said one taxi driver who attended the feast. "Saddam showed that he cares about Saks Fifth Avenue," where he went later to buy some new suits.
Even Saddam's political rivals were careful not to criticize the trip too much. "It was the right thing to do," said a Shiite cleric from Basra, "but he needs more organized resistance in Baghdad."