Saddam's fate uncertain; officials authenticate video

Saturday, March 22, 2003

WASHINGTON -- U.S. intelligence struggled with fragmentary evidence on the fate of Saddam Hussein Friday, though agreeing that he and not a look-alike had appeared in a video recording aired after an attack on his compound.

Some circumstantial, uncorroborated reports suggested the Iraqi president was wounded but had survived the attack early Thursday in Baghdad, said one U.S. official involved in military planning, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

But other government officials with access to intelligence information said that declaring Saddam alive, dead or wounded was premature. The information was simply not conclusive two days after U.S. missiles and bombs devastated the residential compound where the CIA believes he and possibly his sons were sleeping.

"The school is still out whether there is any kind of injury to him. They just don't know," said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

U.S. officials said they believed medical attention was summoned to the compound in the aftermath of the attack. One senior military official said the manner in which the help was summoned raised the possibility Saddam himself or someone of high-level importance in the Iraqi leadership was injured.

Officials said intelligence indicated Saddam was still in the southeast Baghdad compound when the attack took place.

U.S. intelligence suspected Saddam's sons, Qusai and Odai, were with him during the strike. Both hold high-level security positions. Qusai, the younger son, was believed to be Saddam's likely successor.

Their fates were similarly unknown.

Iraqi officials said no one was killed in the blast.

As for the video, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, "The CIA's assessment of the tape is that it does appear to be the voice of Saddam, but there is no conclusive evidence about whether that was taped before or after the operation began."

Possibly pre-recorded

Intelligence officials said some reports indicate Saddam prerecorded several speeches to air during fighting.

The video showed Saddam, in military uniform, reading from a steno pad and exhorting Iraqis to fight American invaders. Intelligence officials said an analysis of the speaker's voice, inflections and facial movements led them to believe it was Saddam.

While Saddam read the date -- March 20 -- during his speech, he did not speak specifically of the attack on him or other events that would positively confirm the message was recorded after the attacks. Nor was there any evidence he had been wounded.

"You sort of have a feeling that he did five or six of those tapes and had different dates on them or they dubbed it in at the precise moment," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee.

Officials see limited evidence of any national leadership being applied in Iraq, particularly in the nation's military and security structures.

"The confusion of Iraqi officials is growing," said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, briefing reporters Friday at the Pentagon. "Their ability to see what is happening on the battlefield, to communicate with their forces and to control their country is slipping away."

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Associated Press writer Ken Guggenheim contributed to this report.

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