This time, I followed the Saddam Hussein news from the very civilized environs of London. When word came that he was to face the hangman’s noose, it brought my mind back to how this man has affected my life, let alone those of the people of Iraq, our fighting men and women, and, and, and. …
Saddam (and his alleged Weapons of Mass Destruction) sent me scuttling along Iraqi highways in broken-down American cars, part of media junkets in the late 90s staged by Saddam’s regime to show off what he claimed to be innocent-looking factories. Everyone, of course, wanted to get there first.
I remember sitting in the front seat of a rusting Pontiac Bonneville and asking my driver if the speedometer was really correct, that we were hurtling forward at 90 mph. He smiled and nodded "yes." I hunkered down and suggested we didn’t necessarily have to be there first. By that time, most of Saddam’s WMDs might have been history, but I contend the fleet of cars his drivers used were as destructive as any missile or nerve-gas store.
Saddam (and his defiance of the Clinton administration) put me on the roof of the Iraqi (Dis-) Information Center in Baghdad in December 1998, doing play-by-play for Brit Hume and others as the U.S. bombs dropped all around our building. That little mission was called 'Operation Desert Fox,' which the Iraqi officials always reminded we FOX employees of.
Things were going OK. The bombs weren’t getting any closer than a half mile or so, when anti-aircraft guns on the top of the roof of the building opened up, raining red-hot heavy spent shells on us and other media. There were no planes in the immediate vicinity. It could have been Saddam’s way of making sure we felt a bit of the sting of the attack. We ducked for cover.
Saddam put me in an Iraqi dentist’s chair. It turned out that a pizza I ate covering the last throes of the Saddam regime in late winter 2003 had an insurgent olive pit in it, neatly cracking one of my wisdom teeth.
So, after some false-starts, including a visit to a dentist who said he fixed Saddam’s son Uday’s teeth (Uday’s luck over the years didn’t inspire confidence), I settled for a rank and file Sunni dentist. Everything was going fine until Day Three when, in a scene right out of the movie "Marathon Man," the dentist decided to do the work without anesthesia. I never experienced such pain. He said he wanted to be sure he had got all the nerve endings out. I was sure, during that moment in the chair, that he was following orders from the Ba’ath party.
Saddam and I celebrated our birthdays, separately, but maybe more together then I realized. You see, Saddam and I both mark April 28 as our birthday. Fellow Taurus signs. And during the first weeks following his government’s downfall in 2003, I was up in Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit, covering a pro-dictator march. After the demo, we nipped over to the Tikrit café, pried open our Army-issued "Meals Read to Eat," and washed them down with Coke's supplied by the restaurant.
As I would later find out, Saddam might have been clinking Coke bottles nearby, a little bit more discretely. Saddam would be found in December of that year hiding out underground a few miles south of that town. It gave me the opportunity to crawl around in a dirty little hole and pretend I was a dictator for the FOX camera for a moment.
When we got the word he was nabbed, I cornered the Army PAO and told her I had to get into the hole. She told me, "OK, but I better do it fast because everyone else would follow suit."
Well, I did, luckily, one of those one-take wonders, and while the rest of the reporters in our media tour of Saddam’s last lair were doing the same, I got to inspect the rest of the remains of Saddam, including, the now-famous pair of boxer shorts, still in their wrapping, that the former Iraqi leader had stashed away. I came so close to “borrowing” those as a souvenir. Hopefully they are now on display at the planned 4th ID museum display of the place.
And then, Saddam forced me to squirm my way through days of mostly interminable court proceedings last winter, during the peak days of his trial, on the first set of crimes against humanity charges. Actually it wasn’t all that bad. It was great drama in fact being only 15 feet away from this guy, watching him rant and rave and stage his courtroom antics.
I positioned myself in the front row of the media seats. I think he did turn around once to glare in our direction during the proceedings I covered. But the times he walked into the courtroom and I tried to lock stares with him, (so I could report I glimpsed into the soul of the evil dictator), his stare was empty, no doubt miles and years away, somewhere in one of his horrid palaces.
So as you can see, Saddam Hussein has been responsible for a lot of bizarre moments in my recent journalistic life. Many more have been left out for space considerations. Luckily for me, I haven’t been touched directly by Saddam Hussein’s deadly style. But hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have, from slaughtered Shiites, to gassed Kurds, to assassinated Sunnis. So as good news fodder as Saddam was, in their memory, let me just say at this time, Saddam Hussein, may you rest in peace, far away from the bloodshed you were responsible for.
Greg Palkot serves as a FOX News Channel foreign correspondent based in Paris. Click here to read his full bio.
Greg Palkot currently serves as a London-based senior foreign affairs correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). He joined the network in 1998 as a correspondent. Follow him on Twitter@GregPalkot.