Saddam not on stamp show

BAGHDAD: Famous figures from Hitler to the first king of Iraq are among the people portrayed in a stamp exhibition at Baghdad Central Post Office but one executed Iraqi tyrant is conspicuous by his absence.

The government has banned pictures of Saddam Hussein from the first philately show in Iraq since the nation's infamous dictator was ousted from power in 2003.

The thousands of stamps displayed by members of Iraq's Philately Society bear witness to the country's chaotic history over the last century, defined by foreign occupations between its great rivers the Tigris and Euphrates.

Every period is represented, from that of the Ottoman Empire to the present government. Some stamps from the Saddam era are included, but his image is unseen.

The bloodthirsty despot who ruled Iraq from 1979 until his brutal regime was toppled in the 2003 US-led invasion was hanged in December 2006 for crimes against humanity.

"The government rejected the stamps that had portraits of Saddam Hussein, saying that they represent the blackest hours of Iraqi history," Wathiq Mohammed Talib, from the ministry of communications and who is director of the office of stamps, told AFP.

Mohammed Dhia Taha, 44, who has been collecting stamps for 25 years, said the government's decision is absurd.

"It is a stupid decision from a government seeking revenge. One should not deny our history," said Taha, looking at some of the pieces in his collection which he put into the exhibition.

These include a British "penny black" from 1840 -- the oldest stamp in the world -- as well as one of the German dictator Hitler.

The exhibition held recently in a first-floor room at the post office was organised by the ministry to commemorate the 87th year of Iraq joining the Universal Postal Union (UPU), an agency of the United Nations.

Renovated just four months ago, the post office still smells of fresh paint. Its post boxes appear to have never been opened.

Soldiers with Kalashnikovs stand on guard everywhere -- on the roof, in the corridors and around a courtyard where a group of schoolboys gathers to listen to a speech by Communications Minister Faruq Abdul Qadir Abdul Rahman.

Among Iraqi exhibits, some Ottoman stamps from 1917 are overprinted with the disapproving legend "Baghdad under British occupation," three years before a League of Nations mandate created the state of Iraq under British control.

Other stamps commemorate subsequent Iraqi leaders -- King Faisal, who reigned from 1921 to 1933, his grandson Faisal the 2nd, ruler from 1939 to 1958, and General Abdul Karim Qassim, who drove him out to become Iraq's first president.

After the first Gulf War in 1991, sanctions imposed on Saddam's regime meant foreign companies could not print stamps for the Iraqi postal service. This led to lower-quality locally-produced stamps and also to overprinting of old stamps with an up-to-date value.

The government redesigned its stamps following Saddam's overthrow, to purge the nation of his ubiquitous postal image.

Stamps no longer carry pictures of politicians, portraying instead uncontroversial people such as singer Nadhum al-Ghazali and playwright Haqqi al-Shibli. The new stamps also support benign causes like the international campaign for the return of Iraqi arts plundered from the country in the wake of the invasion.