- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2003

The United States has failed to substantiate assertions from Iraqis who say they saw Saddam Hussein alive after Baghdad fell, prompting the Bush administration to order excavation at the site of an allied bombing aimed at killing the ousted dictator.

U.S. officials say Iraqi citizens and captives, during interrogations by the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency officers, have told of various sightings of Saddam. The purported eyewitness accounts came after April 7, when two Air Force B-1B bombers dropped four bombs on a building in Baghdad’s Mansur district thought to be holding the dictator and his two sons.

In each case, the Iraqis’ assertions have either been disproved or unsubstantiated because no one else was found who could confirm them, U.S. military sources said this week on the condition of anonymity.

“We have not found two independent sources to verify the same thing about Saddam” after the April 7 strike, said one U.S. official. The official said in some cases, a person says he saw Saddam and that another Iraqi can verify it. But when U.S. officials talk to the second Iraqi, he denies having seen Saddam. “The story breaks down,” the official said.

The fact that U.S. intelligence has been unable to prove that Saddam is alive is one reason that Army engineers converged on the Mansur bombing site this week and began sifting through the rubble for human remains. Gen. Tommy Franks, head of U.S. Central Command, has said that the United States has a sample of Saddam’s DNA to identify his remains.

A senior U.S. intelligence official in Washington said that “at this point we don’t know” whether Saddam is dead or alive.

“We haven’t reached a conclusion,” the official said.

Military officers say it has become increasingly important to prove Saddam’s fate.

The U.S. occupation force of some 150,000 troops is facing persistent guerrilla-style attacks from fighters still loyal to the ousted Ba’ath Party regime, which previously dominated all aspects of Iraqi life.

The U.S. officers say that proving Saddam is dead will send a signal that Ba’ath Party rule is over — for good — and that continued fighting is futile. It may also spur tight-lipped regime figures now in custody to start talking and lead the Pentagon to Saddam’s hidden arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.

It is known that at least one former senior Iraqi official, Tariq Aziz, one of the most prominent spokesman of the Ba’ath Party regime, has told interrogators that he saw Saddam alive in April. But the sighting came the weekend before the bombs fell on the Mansur building.

Intelligence officials say numerous sources put Saddam inside the building just prior to the April 7 strike, along with members of his notorious intelligence service, the Mukhabarat. A Pentagon source said an informant on the ground saw Saddam at the site and did not see him leave after the strike. An intelligence report said Saddam may have been planning to visit a restaurant in the neighborhood.

It was at least the second allied bombing strike aimed at killing Saddam.

On March 19, President Bush authorized commanders to begin the war by dropping bombs on a south Baghdad complex called Dora Farms. Whether Saddam, and his sons, Uday and Qusai, were killed remains a mystery.

The National Security Agency has picked up communications “chatter” of midlevel Iraqis saying Saddam is dead. But intelligence agencies do not know if the talk is accurate and say it could be aimed at deceiving the United States.

Washington has been cautious in pronouncing the death of key Iraqis.

Allied officials, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, had declared as dead one particularly notorious Iraqi, Ali Hassan al-Majid. He is nicknamed “Chemical Ali” for directing deadly chemical weapons attacks on Iraqi Kurds in northern Iraq during the late 1980s.

But recent interrogations have produced statements that al-Majid may have survived an allied strike on a building in Basra where the allies originally believed he was killed.

“I don’t know,” Mr. Rumsfeld said Thursday when asked of al-Majid’s fate. “He was in the southern part of the country. They had locations on him. They attacked locations where they believed him to be. There was some speculation afterwards that they thought that he had been killed. Now there’s some speculation that he may be alive. But I just don’t know.”

Gen. Richard B. Myers, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, added: “I think through some of the interrogations, they think he may be alive right now. So that’s how we’re carrying him, actually.”

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