If Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed Sahhaf is seeking new employment now that his boss, Saddam Hussein, is out of power, he would be welcome in Anne Arundel County, where local public relations professionals have taken note of his spinning skills.
Sahhaf, who entertained counterparts with optimistic predictions of victory and expertly delivered putdowns of the United States and Britain as "a gang of bloodsucking bastards," abruptly disappeared last week when American forces rolled through Baghdad, surrounded by cheering throngs of Iraqis who toppled a statue of Hussein.
Only days before, with his headquarters in flames behind him, Sahhaf had confidently declared: "There is no presence of American infidels in the city of Baghdad."
"He was obviously a creative writing major at Baghdad Community College," said one skeptical spokesman for a major military facility in Annapolis, who demanded anonymity for fear of losing his job. "His complete lack of credibility has made all of us look good."
But by and large, there was admiration for Sahhaf's coolness under fire.
"It provided us great entertainment," said Henry Fawell, a spokesman for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R). "As the statue was coming down, we were waiting for his press conference saying it was not really happening."
"I bet I could learn a lot of pointers from him," said county spokeswoman Jody Hedeman Couser, who fielded tough calls during the February blizzard. She practiced what she'll say the next time around: "Snow? What snow? There is no snow in Anne Arundel County! The snow is melting as it crosses the county line."
Couser's colleague in Annapolis agreed. "When I think my public information officer duties are tough, I think about our counterpart in Baghdad," said city spokeswoman Jan Hardesty. "He has a better rein on the media than we do, and I'm sure he knows how to take care of pesky reporters."
One local government wag suggested that Sahhaf's services could be used by Ehrlich's information minister, Paul E. Schurick, who had little good news to report in the last legislative session.
"Accuracy is our top priority, which would exclude [Sahhaf] from any consideration," Fawell concluded.
Two weeks after their installation, the concrete Jersey barriers surrounding the State House are already a familiar sight to Annapolis residents. Which is a good thing, because they might be staying there even though fighting in Iraq is petering out.
"There are no specific plans for when they come down," said Anne Hubbard, the spokeswoman for the Department of General Services, which was responsible for putting up the barriers. "We're taking a wait-and-see approach."
Installed April 3, days after the country returned to Code Orange and the war in Iraq was underway, the barriers are positioned along Lawyers Mall in front of the State House and in strategic locations around the governor's mansion. They may make the State House terror-proof, but Annapolis is a city that prides itself on style. Some locals have been grumbling that the scuffed-up barriers don't exactly mesh with the historic architecture and wrought iron fences.
Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer (D) stepped in last week. She sent a letter to the governor's office saying she would like the barriers, if they had to stay, replaced with large planters, along the lines of what has been done at the U.S. Naval Academy.
"I hope you will agree that we can adopt a similar safety barrier to replace the rather ugly highway barriers now in place," the mayor wrote.
"I think that it's under consideration," Hubbard said. "But as you know, our tax dollars are tight here in the state of Maryland."