- The Washington Times - Monday, March 24, 2003

U.S. and British officials remain in the dark about whether Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was killed, injured or survived unscathed after the intensive missile attack on his fortified bunker in southern Baghdad that began the war nearly five days ago.
British Foreign Office Minister Mike O'Brien, in the most extensive official comment to date, told a number of British news outlets yesterday that allied intelligence had been in contact with one eyewitness to the Wednesday-evening attack who said Saddam was taken away from the compound in an ambulance.
Mr. O'Brien said it was "unlikely" Saddam was killed and that "if he was injured, it doesn't appear that it was a serious injury." British news reports said the figure believed to be Saddam was seen being given a blood transfusion as he left the area.
Saddam has appeared in footage on state television several times in the days since the attack but never in a public setting and never in a case that can be unambiguously dated as after the attack.
U.S. intelligence specialists have determined that one celebrated Saddam clip aired just hours after the attack, and showing him looking tired and wearing ungainly reading glasses did indeed feature Saddam's voice, but they also caution that he is likely to have recorded a number of appearances for just such a contingency.
The latest Saddam sighting came yesterday, when state television showed him huddled with a collection of political and military leaders in a setting that again could not be dated.
Several top Iraqi officials, including Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan and Information Minister Saeed Sahaf, have appeared on live television since the attack, but Saddam has been seen in only taped, edited excerpts.
Coalition leaders remain strongly convinced that Saddam, his top advisers and members of his immediate family were asleep in the bunker Wednesday night and that U.S. missiles scored a number of direct hits on the compound. U.S. satellite photos also picked up an intensive rescue and treatment operation under way at the site hours after the bombs struck.
As Saddam's fate remains uncertain, rumors have circulated that his older son, Uday, was killed or seriously injured in the attack.
Bolstering the case that Saddam was hit has been a sharp decline in communications between Iraq's political leadership and military commanders in the days since the attack.
Yesterday, a live briefing for the international press in Baghdad on the progress of the war was conducted not by Saddam but by the little-seen defense minister, Sultan Hashim Ahmed.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, interviewed on CNN yesterday, said U.S. officials "have to assume" Saddam is alive in the absence of conclusive evidence to the contrary.
"But we are optimistic that we have effectively hit a regime command-and-control target, and time will tell who was in it," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
Obsessed with security and surrounded by multiple layers of protective security forces, Saddam has long made it a policy not to present an easy target for his many domestic and foreign adversaries. He has survived multiple assassination attempts over the years.
His last public appearance in Iraq came in January 2001, and he has not traveled abroad in the 12 years since the 1991 Persian Gulf war.
Ahmad Chalabi, head of a leading exile Iraqi opposition group that has been working to overthrow Saddam for a decade, said he doubted that his old adversary was seriously hit in the attack.
"I think if Saddam was injured or in any sense incapacitated, it would be known by now, very quickly," he said on NBC's "Today Show" on Friday.

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