BAGHDAD, IRAQ, OCT. 4 -- As a somber Iraqi television announcer read a message from President Saddam Hussein last Saturday, he halted 10 minutes into the speech and disappeared from the screen.

For several minutes the state TV network broadcast the call to the Moslem mid-evening prayer, and then brought back the announcer to finish Saddam's speech.

Having himself preempted for prayer was Saddam's latest innovation in a renewed effort to win support in Iraq and the Arab world by portraying himself as a pious Moslem, according to Iraqi and Arab analysts here. Saddam's personal image-making is part of a broader propaganda battle with Islamic symbols and rhetoric between Saddam and his Arab opponents in the Persian Gulf crisis.

During his rise to power in the 1960s and 1970s, Saddam gave every sign of faith in the secular, Arab nationalist doctrine of his ruling Baath Party. During the early years of his rule, Iraqis here recalled, the state television dropped the practice, common in many Moslem nations, of broadcasting the call to prayer.

"In those days, the Baathists said such {religious} symbols were not the way to advance the country," said an Iraqi intellectual who, like all of those interviewed here, asked that his name not be used.

But the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the Arab world -- and especially the 1979 Islamic revolution in neighboring Iran -- demonstrated Islam's power in mobilizing popular sentiment. During the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, Iran portrayed Saddam as anti-religious. In response, the Iraqi government quietly increased its adherence to Islamic forms. The call to prayer, for example, returned to television.

During those years, it was declared that Saddam's ancestry had been traced to Mohammed, the prophet of Islam. A family tree was published showing Saddam to be a descendant of Mohammed's daughter Fatima and son-in-law, Ali, who is particularly revered by Shiite Moslems. A copy of the family tree was posted at the main shrine of Shiism, in the Iraqi city of Najaf. Iraq's Shiite community, which makes up 55 percent of Iraq's population, has been one of the poles around which domestic political opposition to Saddam has coalesced.

In August, Saddam's invasion and annexation of Kuwait divided the Arab world, igniting a propaganda battle in which Islamic symbols have been the weapons.

Before and after the reading of Saddam's speech Saturday, Iraqi television repeatedly flashed on the screen "Eternal Sayings" by Saddam in which he charged that non-Islamic armies in Saudi Arabia have occupied the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. "Arabs and Moslems are called to liberate the tomb of the prophet from capture by the unbelievers and the Jews," read one of the messages.

The accusation, while untrue, is a powerful appeal to the sentiments of Moslems. It prompted Saudi Arabia last month to summon religious leaders from throughout the Moslem world to certify that the holy cities had not been violated and that Saudi Arabia's reliance on non-Moslem forces for its defense is acceptable under Islamic law.

In occupied Kuwait last month, an Iraqi state-run newspaper, An-Nida, published an article purporting to show that Kuwait's royal family, the Sabahs, were descended from Christian Crusaders, whom the Moslem world fought in the 11th to the 13th centuries for control of Palestine and Jerusalem. According to Arab sources here who monitor the Iraqi press, the paper also claimed that the Saudi royal family is of Jewish ancestry.

At least in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, Saddam's Islamic propaganda effort is largely ineffective, according to Iraqi analysts. Given Saddam's long-time implementation of a secular ideology, one intellectual said, "no Iraqi with a memory will be convinced by suddenly seeing pictures of him praying on the TV." The analysts said they doubted that Saddam's image-making is much more effective in the countryside, but they stressed that the extremely tight controls on information in this country make measurement of rural opinion virtually impossible.

In the view of one Iraqi, Saddam's propaganda fails because it goes too far. This Iraqi ridiculed the interruption of Saddam's televised statement, noting that other state-run Arab television networks would be content merely to flash a message on the screen that the hour for prayers had arrived.

Similarly, he said, Saddam's claim of Mohammed as an ancestor is unsophisticated. "In Iraq, people respect sayyids {certain of Mohammed's descendants}, but the sayyid families are well-known."

Outside Iraq, however, Saddam appears to have made at least tactical advances, winning expressions of support from fundamentalist leaders. In the past month, Algeria's Abbas Madani, Tunisia's Rachid Ghannouchi and Sudan's Hassan Turabi -- each the most prominent fundamentalist in his country -- have visited Baghdad and expressed support for Saddam.

Even that backing appears divorced from Saddam's religious initiatives, however, and a result instead of his more persuasive credentials as a tough supporter of the Palestinians.

"Saddam will never be seen as a pious man, but he is the only Arab leader in 20 years who truly has challenged the Israelis, and it is for that that he gets support," an Iraqi intellectual said.