BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Yehia Abbas al-Dureji is a proud Iraqi. Many here would also say he is also a lucky Iraqi.

Al-Dureji has painted more than 1,000 portraits of President Saddam Hussein, some of which pleased the Iraqi leader so much that he met with the artist on several occasions.

In Iraq, where Saddam is viewed by many as something of a deity, this is a very big deal _ the stuff that earns the respect of one's family and neighbors and deters one's enemies.

Dureji is one of the most favored of the artists who make the hundreds of larger-than-life portraits of Saddam and thousands of photographs that adorn virtually every government building in the country, as well as public squares, schools and shops. Many families also display Saddam's image in their homes.

Speaking to The Associated Press on Friday in his studio on Baghdad's al-Mansouri street _ a man who asked to be called an ``Information Ministry guide'' sitting in on the interview _ Dureji said proudly that his only inspiration was his love for Saddam.

``It is testimony for my love for Saddam and the love of all Iraqis for Saddam,'' he said. ``I don't think of money. I only think of offering my work to this great leader.''

Adorning the walls of his studio are two photographs of him with Saddam. Another shows him posing beside Qusai Saddam, the younger son of the Iraqi leader who also is in charge of the country's ``special'' security.

Other photographs and paintings show Saddam on horseback _ one wearing a military uniform, another in a traditional Arab robe, and a third in riding boots and trousers.

Dureji is considered among the top portraitists of the Iraqi leader, as the photographs of him with Saddam prove.

He is not employed full-time by the government and was reluctant to talk about how much he gets paid, if at all, for his work. He also would not say whether Saddam had ever posed for him.

There was nothing in his appearance that betrayed affluence, and his studio was rather scruffy and looked in need of a fresh coat of paint.

But despite six years of U.N. sanctions imposed to punish Iraq for Saddam's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, Dureji does not waver in his support for Saddam.

``I have just finished five paintings of the president showing the relation between him and the ancient Iraqi city of Babylon,'' he said.

His next project?

A 150-by-30-foot fresco that will go on permanent display in a central Baghdad area used for military parades and national celebrations.

It will depict a crowd of Iraqis representing different walks of life, with Saddam towering above them all.