Mirror makes light of circulation plight in comic strip

LONDON - The Daily Mirror has used a comic strip featuring ludicrous statements in the style of Iraqi minister of information Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf to poke fun at its falling circulation, which is expected to fall below 2m when the latest round of ABCs for March are revealed today.

Page 11 of today's Mirror features a comic strip starring Saeed al-Sahaf, now widely known as the minister of misinformation or Comic Ali, following his breathtaking lies to the Iraqi people and foreign journalists about the position of US forces in the war on Iraq.

One of his famous quotes reported in the press is: "There is no presence of American infidels in the city of Baghdad," as the sound of gunfire could be heard while he gave his press conference.

The strip shows pictures of Saeed al-Sahaf with speech bubbles containing a number of predictions, which are obviously far removed from the truth. They include: "My feelings -- as usual -- are that England will soon slaughter the Australian gang of international cricket outlaws", and "Believe me, Ulrika will not have sex with anyone famous this year".

However, with the last image and speech bubble, it is not clear whether editor Piers Morgan is trying to make light of his paper's troubles, or whether the joke was intended to be about one of his competitors, but was mistakenly changed in the final editing process.

The speech bubble reads: "The Daily Mirror mercenaries will soon be selling 5 million copies again -- trust me."

ABC figures for the March reporting period are expected to show the Mirror has fallen below 2m and could be down by as much as 5% on the previous year's figure of 2,116,281. This would be the Mirror's lowest ABC to date, according to industry sources. Last month, its circulation was 2,042,092.

The figures will be a bitter blow to Trinity Mirror as its rival The Sun is expected to be up 4% on its March 2002 figure of 3,379,716. Last month, it posted a circulation of 3,516,129.

Yesterday, Trinity Mirror chief executive Sly Bailey placed herself directly in control of its national newspapers, with the announcement that Mark Haysom had quit his role as managing director of national newspapers.

How safe Morgan's position is, however, remains the subject of much media speculation. He is understood to have been under increasing pressure to abandon the Daily Mirror's anti-war stance, which is understood to have lost it tens of thousands of readers.

A long war in Iraq could have been devastating for the Daily Mirror, which has run some spectacular photo front pages.

However, things were looking like they were getting back to normal this morning as the top half of the Mirror's front page led with Leslie (cosmetic-surgery lips) Ash kissing her husband Lee Chapman in a swimming pool.

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