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Most-wanted Iraqi playing cards

In the 2003 invasion of Iraq by a United States-led coalition, the U.S. military developed a set of playing cards to help troops identify the most-wanted members of President Saddam Hussein's government, mostly high-ranking Baath Party members or members of the Revolutionary Command Council. The cards were officially named the "personality identification playing cards".

About the cards

Each card contains the wanted person's name, a picture if available, and the job performed by that individual. The highest-ranking cards, starting with the aces and kings, were used for the people at the top of the most-wanted list. The ace of spades is Saddam Hussein, the aces of clubs and hearts are his sons Qusay and Uday respectively, and the ace of diamonds is Saddam's presidential secretary Abid Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti. This strict correspondence to the order of the most-wanted list was not carried through the entire deck, but some time later in 2003, the list itself was renumbered to conform (almost) to the deck of cards.

According to Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jim Brooks, a spokesman for the Defense Intelligence Agency, such playing cards have been used as far back as the Civil War and again in World War IIArmy Air Corps decks printed with the silhouettes of German and Japanese fighter aircraft fetch hundreds of dollars today — and in the Korean War. Troops often play cards to pass the time, and seeing the names, faces and titles of the wanted Iraqis during their games will help soldiers and Marines in case they run into the wanted individuals in the field, Brooks said.

Developed by five US Army Soldiers, 2LT Hans Mumm, SSG Shawn Mahoney, SGT Andrei Salter, SGT Scott Boehmler, and SPC Joseph Barrios, who were assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency, the deck of cards was first announced publicly in Iraq on April 11, 2003, in a press conference by Army Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, deputy director of operations at U.S. Central Command. On that same evening Max Hodges, a Houston-based entrepreneur, found and downloaded a high-resolution artwork file for the deck from a Defense Department web server. Discovering the following day that the file had vanished from the military web server he became the first eBay seller to offer the artwork file, in PDF, which could be used to reproduce the deck. He quickly contracted Gemaco Playing Card Company to print 1,000 decks for about $4,000 and started selling both the decks, in advance of receiving them from the printer, on eBay, Amazon.com and his own web site. When some of his early auctions for a $4 deck of cards quickly rose to over $120, it didn't take long for other eBayers to jump on the bandwagon and print or order decks of their own to sell. In just a few days hundreds of sellers materialized and the price dropped to just a few dollars per deck.

Within hours of the press conference, a New York City based entrepreneur set-up BaghdadRummy.com (a play on Secretary of Defense Don "Rummy" Rumsfeld's nickname and the card game Rummy), the first of what became dozens of websites operated by other entrepreneurs, to sell the cards to the public.

Texas-based Liberty Playing Card Co. received an order to manufacture the cards for the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait and by claiming to be "the authorized government contractor" quickly became another popular domestic supplier for the commercial market. The U.S. military inadvertently included in the jokers the trademarked Hoyle joker owned by The United States Playing Card Company of Cincinnati, Ohio. Although The U.S. Playing Card company does not object to the government's use of the image, they do object to other companies using the trademarked image. Thus, in some sense, the U.S. military inadvertently granted The U.S. Playing Card Company exclusive rights to manufacture the authentic decks, if the trademarked images on the jokers are considered a requirement for being authentic.

The deck of cards spawned many imitations and parodies, such as decks featuring members of the Bush administration and the Republican Party , as well as prominent liberals and members of the Democratic Party. Other decks were created to commemorate the subsequent Presidential Election, including the colorfully balanced Presidential Poker deck which contains a suit for each political point-of-view (positive Republicans, negative Republicans, positive Democrats, negative Democrats) along with a unique poker variation that lampooned the issues contests in the 2004 race. There has been criticism of the Bush administration for being preoccupied with Iraq and losing focus of Osama bin Laden and the most wanted al-Qaeda members; those of this view often cite as an example that the government hasn't made up a similar deck of cards for the top al-Qaeda members.

Complete decks are good examples of ephemera, because they will have lost their original purpose and their novelty interest in a relatively short time, and they will become original printed witnesses of some major historical events.

Spades

Clubs

Hearts

Diamonds

Other

There are also two jokers: one lists Arab titles, the other Iraqi military ranks. There are no cards for most-wanted #45 (was #26), Nayif Shindakh Thamir, #53 (was #34) Husayn al-Awadi, or #54 (was #35) Khamis Sirhan al-Muhammad.

The 13 June 2003 edition of the BBC One satirical news quiz, Have I Got News for You, featured a set of the playing cards in one round, spoofing guest host Bruce Forsyth's 1980s game show Play Your Cards Right. The two teams played a version of the latter's main game, retitled Play Your Iraqi Cards Right (although during the segment it was revealed that the writers' first choice had been Play Your Kurds Right), with the same rules (and audience participation). Much of the humour of the round came from the reactions of the two team captains: while Paul Merton was clearly familiar with the game and greatly enjoyed it, his opponent, Ian Hislop, admitted he'd never seen Play Your Cards Right and appeared mystified by the game's rules and etiquette (when at one point Merton and the crowd shouted the traditional cry of "lower, lower," to predict the next card in the hidden sequence, Hislop memorably commented, "I'm not sure this programme could get much lower!")

A similar deck of fictional North Korean war criminals forms the basis of the plot of the game Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction.

Also similar is The "Least Wanted" Deck, which was distributed by prominent conspiracy theorist radio host Alex Jones. This deck featured prominent members of the New World Order.

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