Top intelligence experts now believe beret-fancying Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein died of complications from swallowing his mustache during a US missile attack on his Baghdad bunker in March, but has since been stuffed, mounted on wheels and trundled out by fanatic loyalist taxidermists for surprise morale-boosting appearances around the country. “This would account for those reported Saddam sightings in recent days,” says a high-ranking US military officer, “while getting us off the hook for not having offed him.”

That theory has now been largely discredited, however, by CIA analysts, who also claim that the pistol-packing nepotist is dead but attribute reports that he is still alive to a hologram projected in selected town and village squares on market day by fanatic loyalist scientists. “It’s a win-win explanation,” boasts one US official. “We escape ridicule for not having scragged Saddam, yet we don’t have to deny that he’s been seen around.”

But cold water has just been dashed on both the taxidermy and the hologram theories. Senior US Special Forces operatives in Baghdad now lean toward the belief that the horse-faced tyrant is fully dead and that widespread Saddam sightings are manifestations of his ghostly spirit and not the man himself. “This means we got the bastard, all right,” a spokesperson explains, “but as for what he does in the afterlife–hey, we can’t be held responsible.”

A statement by the Defense Department, just released, has suddenly rendered all three Saddam explanations inoperative. The DoD now claims, based on exhaustive analysis, that Saddam Hussein does not, and never did, exist but was only a clever piece of animation, offering as proof the fact that he has never been found. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld assures Americans that they can now forget all about finding Saddam Hussein, alive or dead, and concentrate instead on duct-taping their windows.