The Shia shopkeeper growing rich on Saddam

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The Independent Online

Saddam in uniform, Saddam in business suit, Saddam in green beret, Saddam smiling upon his people. "Ten dollars," Mr Abu Mohamed says. Post-war, of course. The Arab masses did not buy such trash when the leader of the Arab Socialist Baath Party was in power. These are Japanese-manufactured, albeit not so classy as the new Chinese-made cigar-ette lighters.

"Anxiety peace we," it says inscrutably on the bottom. But the lighter itself is a cracker in every sense of the word. Snap open the top and a MiG fighter-bomber unloads its bombs on an anonymous target below, each bomb flashing red and each explosion a burst of blue light.

"The Russians like this stuff most," Mr Abu Mohamed says. "They tell us in Arabic that Saddam was so like Stalin: they both destroyed their people in endless wars. The French like these things, too, but I don't understand them when they speak."

Could there be, I wonder, in Mr Au Mohamed's crowded emporium, a certain Jacobin admiration for the blood of Saddam's countless revolutions?

"Now, you want to see the real thing?" Mr Abu Mohamed asks me. Of course I do. And out comes a smart Cartier box. "This was in Saddam's palace; it is his personal shaving kit." I open the box - it is genuine - and inside gleams a solid gold shaver, heavy, beautifully designed. "Pasha de Cartier" is engraved beneath the tip, still ready for its G-11 razor. I hold it to my cheek. So this once cut the whiskers of the man found in a hole in 2003.

But that is not all. Gardeners and staff at the Republican palaces across Iraq filched what they could when the regime fell, and a good deal ended up in Mr Abu Mohamed's hands.

He has a stash of fine Longines watches for men and women - $500 if you're interested - a chic little head of Saddam on each face, slightly reduced if it's for a woman. These were the "gifts" Saddam would bestow on his faithful or on the most fawning of foreign Arab diplomats, officials or, dare one suggest, journalists. It was a gardener again who rounded up this little treasure-trove. In a good week, Mr Abu Mohamed might make $5,000 (£2,700), in a bad week, nothing, he says.

There are packets of regime currency with a youthful Saddam standing proudly beside dams (250 dinar notes) or the Tower of Babel (10,000 dinars) and photographs of the banknotes of King Feisal I, the soon-to-be-executed President Kassim and President al-Bakr, predecessor of Saddam ("the great Uncle figure") who wisely gave up power to avoid losing his head. One of the most outrageous of Mr Abu Mohamed's gifts is a lighter bearing the heads of President George Bush and a certain Muqtada Sadr, the only Shia cleric to have fought the American occupation and whom an American spokesman once promised would be "captured or destroyed".

Of course, nothing of the sort happened; Sadr still lives happily in Najaf. "No, no to America" it says in Arabic along the lighter.

But does a man who makes so much money out of Saddam have any affection for the old rogue?

Mr Abu Mohamed doesn't hesitate. "I am a Shia from Sadr City," he says. "For a long time, I haven't liked him. He killed many of our imams." But Saddam still, it seems, can make a small profit for his former enemies.