Fugitive Saddam May Have Changed His Look

By Max Gross

Published April 18, 2003, issue of April 18, 2003.
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One never had to walk more than a block or two in Baghdad to see the ubiquitous image of Saddam Hussein. In large, colorful murals on campuses and in hotel lobbies and mosques, Saddam pasted his image all over Iraq. The dictator with the bandit mustache could be seen in a scholar’s cap and gown, in traditional robes or prostrate in prayer.

But, according to one Houston-based doctor, Saddam might by now look nothing like Saddam.

“The smartest thing [for a fugitive] is not to look like what you look like,” said Dr. Russell Kridel, a plastic surgeon and former president of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. “The best and easiest thing is to leave the country and look like someone totally different.” Kridel has come up with a number of different faces for what the dictator on the run might look like if he had plastic surgery.

Would Saddam — the supreme egotist — go under the knife? Dr. Jerrold Post, who recently published a study of Saddam and Bill Clinton titled “The Psychological Assessment of Political Leaders” told the Forward that it was unlikely. But the idea is not so far-fetched. CNN’s Martin Savidge reported on Saturday that an Iraqi who surrendered to Marines told them he performed plastic surgery on Saddam and his relatives, and that he knows where the leader is hiding.

The egotist in Saddam might, in fact, welcome a little plastic surgery. Saddam “has the face of an aging man,” Kridel told the Forward. “A facelift would … take 10 or 15 years off his age.”

“There is some software that [I use] that identifies critical structures in the face,” said Kridel, who uses the same software to show prospective clients what they would look like post-surgery. With this software, Kridel has projected what Saddam would look like with more prominent cheekbones, and a chin implant, as well as with different hairstyles and bone structure. Law-enforcement officials have used the same kind of technology for years.

Saddam need not do anything as dramatic as a facelift if he simply wanted to slip through Iraq unnoticed, Kridel said. “The first thing I would do would be to shave off his mustache. People who [remove] facial hair look totally different.” If Saddam decided to have a facelift, finding him would be a lot more complicated. “I think it would be difficult,” Kridel said. But “someone [in Saddam’s entourage] would know about it.” When Saddam is eventually captured, he might be identifiable only through his fingerprints or through DNA samples.

“He could [be] recovering in a clinic in another country…. Could he be hiding in Libya? Could he be in Syria? Who knows?” Kridel said. “We haven’t found his body, so all we can do is speculate.”

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