- The Washington Times - Monday, March 24, 2003

LONDON, March 24 (UPI) — Iraq's President Saddam Hussein was back on the air Monday morning, dissipating wild rumors of his demise. This time there were no doubts that it was indeed Saddam addressing his people on state-run Iraqi television, which was picked up by Western channels and broadcast the world over.

In his second televised address since the start of the war, it was further obvious that this message was taped well after the start of the Anglo-American offensive aimed to oust him from power. The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq began last Thursday.

Unlike his first speech that left many doubts whether it was in fact Saddam or one of the many body doubles he is often reported to use, observers this time seemed unanimous that it was well the Iraqi president.

There were also questions whether the first speech had been pre-taped as a precaution by Saddam, in case something happened to him during the first days of the war. The first speech was vague and made no direct references to the developing situation. However, this time the Iraqi strongman mentioned the battle of Umm Qasr, the port city in southern Iraq where coalition forces met stiff Iraqi resistance, proving that this address could be no older than a few days, at most.

Wearing his military-styled Baath Party uniform, Saddam also read off names of several "heroic deeds" carried out by Iraqi soldiers who he said put up stiff resistance "against the enemies of God and humanity."

Saddam told his people, "when evil comes to us armed with the sword of destruction," to "hit them and strike them." Saddam told his countrymen that the coalition forces "have underestimated the Iraqis."

The speech, obviously recorded in a makeshift studio, showed a plain white sheet as backdrop with an Iraqi flag standing to one side. It was not the usual chic palatial dcor of his pre-war speeches.

Unlike the previous speech that seemed to have been haphazardly hand-written in a notebook, this time Saddam read from what appeared to be neatly printed white pages. Another important feature worth noting was this time Saddam was not wearing eyeglasses.

Except for once or twice nervously sorting the pages of his speech by tapping them on the desk, Saddam appeared calmer and more composed than in the first speech. But still, it remained unclear as to exactly when this speech was recorded. Saddam made no mention of the capture of American soldiers by Iraqi troops. One woman and four American soldiers captured by Iraqi troops were paraded on Iraqi television on Sunday. This led some observers to believe the speech may have been recorded before that date.

Since the start of the war, numerous rumors have been circulating — in Washington, as well as among Iraqi opposition groups in London — that Saddam may have been injured, or even killed during American air raids on Baghdad. One popular belief was that Saddam had been caught in the initial allied raids at the very outset of the war.

One report had him wounded and evacuated by stretcher from one of his bunkers.

Monday's broadcast dissipates all those rumors. During the broadcast which ran about 10 minutes, the Iraqi leader showed no apparent signs of injury or ill-health. His speech was normal as was his general appearance. In his usual self-assured manner, he urged Iraqis to show patience and promised them victory.

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(Claude Salhani is a senior editor with United Press International.)




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