War Baubles Create Cottage Industry

For those looking for a war memento, novelty items ranging from Saddam soap-on-a-rope to a talking Information Minister doll are for sale on the Internet.

Predictably, the war has inspired a host of eBay-worthy products. In addition to the soap and the action figures, there’s also Iraqi Road ice cream, Bomb Saddam Mad Blast Hot Sauce and playing cards featuring the most-wanted Iraqi leaders.

“This kind of thing is absolutely inevitable,” popular culture expert Robert Thompson said of the trend. “Whenever you’ve got something the entire nation shares, there’s always going to be a little cottage industry that pops up around it.”

There are currently thousands of war-related trinkets for sale on the online auction house eBay; items are also available on the Web sites of the companies that make them.

Mike Mitchell, owner of Gourmet Mike's Enterprises, said the Bomb Saddam Hot Sauce -- created by Hot Sauce Harry's in Dallas -- provides a little comic relief. Sales of the fiery stuff have jumped by 50 percent since the war began last month, he said.

“People are taking it as a comical satire,” said Mitchell, who sells the Saddam product individually for $7.95 or as part of a set with Bomb Laden Hot Sauce and Hot and Proud Hot Sauce for $19.95. “It’s to give people a chance to be a part of history and laugh at Saddam.”

Ellen Cagnassola, owner and president of Sweet Soaps, said she originally made the $6 Saddam soap-on-a-rope for the troops and their families.

“It was good for morale. It made me feel like I was doing something besides sitting around and watching the news,” she said. “Watching the soldiers and the conditions they were in, I thought, ‘What could I do to elevate the mood?’”

The Web site's description of the soap pokes fun at the former Iraqi leader. "There is a hole purposely punched through his head to allow you to HANG him in your very own shower," it says.

But Cagnassola acknowledged that not everyone will want to take a shower with Saddam.

“It’s really not meant to be used, in my mind,” Cagnassola said. “It’s a novelty item, a conversation piece. It’s like post-war memorabilia.”

Herobuilders.com sells dolls of President Bush and the ex-Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf among others for $35.95. The al-Sahaf "Dis-Information Minister" doll says things like, “There are no American infidels in Baghdad. Never!” and “No, I am not scared and neither should you be.”

Decks of the military’s most-wanted Iraqi leader playing cards are available on many sites such as GreatUSAflags. And Star Spangled Ice Cream Co. offers “conservative alternatives to Ben & Jerry’s" like Iraqi Road, Donald Rum Raisin and I Hate the French Vanilla.

Thompson said the Saddam items in particular might make Americans feel better about the fact that the dictator’s whereabouts are still unknown.

“There’s that frustration -- we can’t find him, we aren’t sure whether he’s gone or not,” he said. “One way you can work that all out is by making fun of him.”

Of course, there’s always the chance that someone will be offended by trinkets that make light of the war in Iraq.

“Let’s say you’d lost a son or daughter in this war,” Thompson said. “I’m not sure you’d want to go to a local malt shop and see Iraqi Road ice cream.”

Though items poking fun at an entire culture would be problematic, Thompson doesn't think much of the war-related merchandise will strike a nerve.

"Most people see that it's a celebration of a victory," he said.

And, he pointed out, the Iraq trinkets fad is just that.

“It’s a drive-by industry. They sell a lot of them, they make a quick killing and then they pack it up.”