Saddam: Dead Or Alive?

The portrait of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein is enscribed with a love note (but not a love note to Saddam!) painted by a passing American soldier as troops advanced through Baghdad's outer suburbs Saturday, April 5, 2003. AP

Where is Saddam?

Even as a lot of Iraqis celebrate in Baghdad - convinced that Saddam Hussein's regime has fallen - nobody knows for sure where he is.

There are lots of rumors. Some say he escaped an air strike and is hiding in the Russian Embassy as part of a deal between Washington and Moscow. Some believe Saddam and his sons are in his hometown of Tikrit. Others say he was killed in a bomb blast.

U.S. intelligence had solid information from multiple sources that Saddam went inside a building in the Mansur neighborhood of Baghdad and didn't leave before it was struck by an American bomber Monday, U.S. officials said. One intelligence source was believed to be an eyewitness who watched him go inside, but intelligence officials stopped well short of declaring Saddam dead. They describe the information as encouraging but not conclusive.

Ahmad Chalabi, the once-exiled leader of the Iraqi National Congress, told CNN television Wednesday that he had heard from sources inside Iraq that Saddam and his two sons survived the bombing and were in a town northeast of Baghdad when the U.S. Marines arrived.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld laid out several possibilities: "He's not active. Therefore, he's either dead, or he's incapacitated, or he's healthy and cowering in some tunnel someplace trying to avoid being caught."

Two British newspapers report Saddam probably escaped.

"He was probably not in the building when it was bombed," a well-placed source told Britain's Guardian newspaper. The source added it was believed that President Saddam had been in the building earlier.

The American pilot of a B-1 bomber circling nearby was told the Iraqi president had entered the building. Twelve minutes later, the pilot dropped four 2,000 pound joint direct attack munition bombs on it.

The Times of London quoted an unidentified source saying Saddam may have come and gone through a tunnel.

Lebanese TV said there was a rumor that Saddam had holed up in the Russian Embassy in Baghdad. The State Department says it can't confirm the rumor. However, one official advised that if the rumor is true, it was most unlikely that the U.S. military would go in after him - they would more likely surround the building and "start playing the music tapes from the Noreiga-Panama siege."

Moscow emphatically denied harboring Saddam.

Most officials expect Saddam to remain in Baghdad until the very end. If he flees, it could be to his hometown of Tikrit, north of Baghdad, which has been bombed heavily but isn't under U.S. control. Officials cast doubt on speculation he could go to Syria, or seek refuge in the Russian Embassy in Baghdad.

Given the chaos in the city, it was unclear whether U.S. forces could safely reach the al-Mansour neighborhood in western Baghdad, where Saddam was reported to have been when the bombs hit.

Monday's bombing marked the second time that Americans had targeted Saddam for death in the war. President Bush personally approved a missile strike on March 20 in Baghdad, the opening salvo of the military campaign to topple his regime.

The question now becomes is this the end or the beginning of a new phase which would include a massive search operation which can go on indefinitely to hunt down remaining members of Saddam's regime and also to hunt down weapons of mass destruction.

  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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