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Status of Iraqi leaders murky

©Associated Press

March 23, 2003

WASHINGTON -- U.S. intelligence indicates at least one of Saddam Hussein's top deputies is alive and is commanding some of Iraq's military efforts.

But senior Bush administration officials said Saturday there was no intelligence that would conclusively determine whether Hussein or his sons, Qusay and Uday, were dead or wounded.

State-run Iraqi television reported that Hussein held two meetings Saturday with senior government members and Qusay Hussein, who had been regarded as his father's likely successor.

Video footage from the meetings was not shown during the initial broadcast. An evening report aired a brief clip showing Hussein chairing a meeting in a military uniform, but American officials said there was no way to tell whether the footage was taped before the war began.

U.S. officials say one other high-level Iraqi leader was known to be alive: Hussein's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid al-Tikriti, known to his enemies as "Chemical Ali" for leading a deadly 1988 campaign in northern Iraq against rebellious Kurds that included chemical weapons attacks.

Ali Hassan was not thought to be present in the war's opening strike that was aimed at Hussein. Since the war began, he moves frequently but is able to provide some direction to Iraqi military and security forces.

As for Hussein, "I have no idea where he is right now," Gen. Tommy Franks said Saturday at command headquarters in Qatar. He said he believes there is "a certain confusion" going on within the Iraqi government as to control, and American forces do not consider their mission to be about Hussein alone.

"It is not about that one personality," Franks said. "In fact, it is about this regime. And so that's what we're going to focus on."

Described as one of Hussein's chief enforcers, Ali Hassan is believed to be commanding Iraqi military and security efforts in a large portion of southeastern Iraq. The Bush administration has said it wants Ali Hassan tried for war crimes or crimes against humanity.

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