- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein surfaced yesterday to quash persistent rumors he had been killed or incapacitated by U.S. bombs, urging his countrymen in a taped television address to "cut the throats" of American troops and calling on other Arab nations to rally to Baghdad's aid.
U.S. and British officials said the edited 20-minute speech, which Saddam read from an undetermined location in front of a plain white backdrop, did not definitively refute intelligence reports suggesting that Saddam, his top aides and members of his family had been hit in a cruise-missile strike on his Baghdad bunker that opened the war Wednesday night.
Saddam praised a series of Iraqi military commanders in Basra and Umm Qasr, where much of the early fighting has been concentrated, and referred in a general way to Iraqi guerrilla resistance to allied advances in the south.
"I think there are some doubts about whether that tape is canned or was fresh based on recent events," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
British Defense Minister Geoff Hoon said it was known that Saddam had prerecorded a number of messages for airing once the war began. Several previous post-attack clips of Saddam aired on Iraqi television could not be dated conclusively and only added to the mystery.
"The contemporary events referred to [in yesterdays address] did not appear to me to be unambiguously contemporary," Mr. Hoon told reporters in London.
"Had he wanted to indicate that this was live, or was recent, there were many events that he could have referred to, which he clearly did not," he added.
When Saddam praised several units and commanders, he named the commander of the 11th Iraqi Brigade in Basra, who surrendered along with many of his troops in the early hours of the war. That prompted some to conclude that the tape was likely to have been recorded before the beginning of hostilities.
Others said, however, that the man who said he was the commander was an imposter.
Baghdad scored a small diplomatic victory when foreign ministers of the Arab League, meeting in Cairo, approved a nonbinding resolution demanding the immediate withdrawal of U.S.-led forces.
A group of Arab ambassadors to the United Nations also announced that they will seek an emergency meeting of the Security Council to discuss Iraq and press for an end to the war.
Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, who also had not been seen since last week's cruise-missile attack, held a press conference in Baghdad yesterday, insisting that Saddam is "in full control of the army and the country."
In addition to his televised address, a relaxed-looking Saddam was shown in two clips with his younger son, Qusai, meeting with senior commanders from Baghdad and the southern city of Basra.
The only senior figure in the Iraqi regime who has not been seen in the past five days is Saddam's older son, Uday, who was reported to have been asleep with his father in the south Baghdad compound hit by the U.S. cruise missiles.
Saddam's speech featured his trademark mix of defiance, colorful metaphors, and allusions to Islamic jihad, or "holy war," and the Palestinian struggle against Israel. He urged Iraqis to strike hard at advancing British and American infantry units.
"These are your days. You Iraqis are in line with what God has ordered you to do, to cut their throats and even their fingers," said Saddam, reading from a sheaf of papers in his hand. "Strike them and strike evil so that evil will be defeated."
Saddam referred obliquely to the failure of allied forces so far to uncover banned chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction that the Bush administration insists Iraq has stockpiled.
"To our enemies: Have you found what the devil that besets your soul promised you in Iraq?" he asked.
U.S. and British officials say it is early in the campaign and that Saddam's weapons of mass destruction will take time to uncover. American military commanders said that whether Saddam survived last week's attack has no effect on their advance on Baghdad.
"In terms of our ongoing military operations, it doesn't make any difference," allied commander Gen. Tommy Franks said at a briefing in Kuwait City. "This is not about one man; it's about an oppressive regime."

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