On the afternoon of July 17, a self-proclaimed expert in biochemistry composed an e-mail message to Saddam Hussein.
The message, sent from an MSN Hotmail account on a computer in China, recommended the use of methyl bromide, an agricultural pesticide, as an effective chemical weapon against the U.S. Army.
"For weapon use, have function: no color, no smell, will let person dead in a few second," wrote the e-mail's author, who provided the phone number and address of a distributor in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, from which the toxic chemical could be purchased "in cylinder or in can."
The chilling electronic missive was among hundreds evidently sent to Iraq's president last summer from people around the world.
As America veers toward confrontation with Iraq, these e-mail messages provide a raw, uncensored view of global opinion -- and of the potential challenges awaiting U.S. efforts to disarm or overthrow Saddam, Iraq's leader since 1979.
It's not clear whether Saddam uses e-mail or even knows how to operate a personal computer. But scores of people write to him each week at email@example.com, the e-mail address listed on the official homepage of the Iraqi presidency since at least October 2000.
Messages sent to the account, Iraq's version of firstname.lastname@example.org, run the gamut from fawning solicitations for autographed photos and media interviews to obscene death threats.
The e-mails sent to email@example.com were obtained earlier this month by first clicking on a link labeled "Check your e-mail in Uruk" on the homepage of Iraq's state-controlled ISP, Uruklink.net, then guessing the login name and password -- both of which were the same five-letter word.
The version of webmail software used by the Iraqi ISP is known to have several security holes -- but the patches available for them do not appear to have been applied.
An e-mail sent last week to firstname.lastname@example.org, the contact address on the ISP's home page, was returned as undeliverable. An error message said the mailbox had exceeded its allowed capacity.
Among the hundreds of messages marked as unread in Saddam's inbox were several junk e-mails and messages infected with computer viruses. Numerous e-mails -- including some from Americans -- offered advice and assistance to Saddam.
Consider, for example, a flurry of messages apparently sent to Saddam by an employee of a Saudi Arabian oil company in July and August. The e-mails contained cryptic reports in broken English about the location of U.S. oil pipelines, as well as warnings about the movement of submarines, aircraft and other military equipment and personnel in the Middle East.
"I will try to give you (An Sha Allah) a good way to protect your Muslims," said the message. (The phrase In sha' Allah, from the Quran, means "God willing.")
Meanwhile, an Internet user from Washington state, who conceded that he would "probably end up on some FBI watch list for writing this," told Saddam in an e-mail dated Aug. 1 that he opposed military action against Iraq.
The author of the message advised Saddam to be diligent "with regards to your own personal security. The CIA is notoriously crafty and extremely adept at overthrowing governments and their respective leaders."
In another message, a resident of Vienna, Austria, told Saddam in a July 27 message that Americans are "arrogant," and that should the United States attack Iraq, "you need only send a ticket and I will come to Iraq to fight the Americans. I am a good shot, and I am serious about my offer."
Saddam's inbox also contained several solicitations from American companies hoping to do business with Iraq -- despite U.S. prohibitions and United Nations trade sanctions.
On Aug. 16, the CEO of a California wireless technology-maker e-mailed Saddam to request a meeting. According to the CEO's message, the two could discuss "technology improvements and exporting of rich technology abroad."