Saddam plays 'catch me if you can' with US

Published on Mar 22, 2003 12:38 AM IST

The US is still pressing the Iraqi leadership to dump President Saddam Hussein, who appeared in a new television broadcast on Friday in a bid to show he remains in control.

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PTI | ByAgence France-Presse, Washington

The United States is still pressing the Iraqi leadership to dump President Saddam Hussein, who appeared in a new television broadcast on Friday in a bid to show he remains in control.

Before Saddam's televised meeting with his son Qusay and Defence Minister Sultan Hashem Ahmad, the United States had said there was no hard information about whether the Iraqi strongman was dead or alive after being the main target of the first US bombing raids on Baghdad.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said the United States is still pressing senior Iraqi figures to desert Saddam.

"There are a number of channels open to Baghdad. There are a number of individuals and countries around the world who have been conveying the message to the Iraqi regime that it is now inevitable that there will be a change," Powell said.

Amidst reports that Saddam was seen being stretchered away from a compound after the opening attack of the war, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said there were a lot of rumours but "nothing concrete to report."

Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Said al-Sahhaf said Saddam and his family had survived a bombing raid on one of their homes and the Iraqi leader was reportedly offering cash rewards to soldiers who shoot down a US plane.

Saddam was also seen in a broadcast after just the raid. Friday's broadcast will come in for similar intense intelligence scrutiny to determine whether it was recorded before the war started.

ABC television said Saddam may have been injured in the bombing raid on his compound before dawn on Thursday.

Saddam and his sons were believed to be in a residential compound that was struck by F-117 stealth fighters and sea-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles, according to US intelligence.

Witnesses saw Saddam being carried away from the wreckage of the compound hit early Thursday with an oxygen mask over his face, according to intelligence sources quoted by ABC.

The intelligence sources said the "lack of communication" between Saddam's office and his main command and government offices was being interpreted as meaning he had health problems, ABC added.

US intelligence officials, quoted by The Washington Post, also said they believe Saddam was in the compound in southern Baghdad which was hit.

One administration official said Saddam may have been injured, citing "indications" that emergency medical assistance was summoned for him, the report said.

White House spokesman Fleischer commented: "I don't report on rumours." He added "I don't know how Saddam Hussein is feeling today."

Analysis of the first broadcast by the Central Intelligence Agency has found that it was probably Saddam but could not determine whether it was live or recorded.

"US intelligence believes that it was most likely Saddam Hussein on the tape, but it's not clear when it was made," an intelligence official told AFP.

There has been speculation that a Saddam look-alike had been used for the appearance.

US officials have also said that Saddam is thought to have made a number of such recordings before the expiration of a US deadline for him to leave Iraq.

The Washington Post said the decision to attack the compound was reached in the hours before the raid in a meeting between President George W. Bush and his senior advisers, including CIA director George Tenet.

The CIA chief told Bush the information on Saddam's whereabouts was "pretty darn good intelligence," according to the report.

Iraq's Information Minister Mohammed Said al-Sahhaf said in Baghdad that US planes "targeted the home of Saddam Hussein's family yesterday, but thanks to the protection of God they survived those attacks. They are safe."

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