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Reports: Hussein is likely still alive

Intelligence reports indicate the Iraqi president survived the bombings but may have been injured.

[AP photo]
Iraqi soldiers and civilians search along the banks of the Tigris River after reports that a coalition jet was downed.

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 24, 2003

American and British intelligence officials have concluded that Saddam Hussein probably survived the attack on his compound on Wednesday night, although they think he may have suffered minor injuries, according to officials who have reviewed recent intelligence reports.

Senior U.S. and foreign officials say their belief that Saddam Hussein was seriously wounded is primarily based on intercepted telephone calls of Iraqis living around the suburban Baghdad complex where he and his two sons were sleeping that morning and on reports from other Iraqis in contact with U.S. intelligence who claim to have been on the scene.

A senior administration official and a foreign official said some intelligence, including the story that Hussein was carried out of the building on a stretcher, came from U.S. operatives who listened in on phone calls made by Baghdad neighbors who witnessed the aftermath of the attack.

Even though most officials have concluded that Hussein is probably alive, the CIA has so far not determined his fate with certainty, intelligence officials said Sunday. Nor has the agency been able to ascertain whether anyone else was killed or injured in the raid on a residential compound in Baghdad.

Absent concrete evidence, senior Bush administration officials have apparently opted to think that Hussein survived the attack, a theory reinforced by signs that the Iraqi government, while impaired, has continued to exert control over the country, officials said.

Raid sirens silent as more bombings rock Baghdad

Several predawn explosions rocked the Iraqi capital city without warning today, the absence of air raid sirens and antiaircraft fire suggesting that air defenses may have deteriorated in five days of bombing by American and British warplanes.

As aircraft screamed in low over the Iraqi capital, shaking buildings with a heavy bombardment, a call of "God is great" rang out from a mosque.

It appeared to be the strongest airstrike since Friday night, when Tomahawk missiles rained down on the city of 5-million people, smashing several of Hussein's palaces and government buildings.

Before each blast, low-flying aircraft could be heard. The loudspeaker from a mosque's minaret blared, "Allahu akbar" -- "God is great" -- and "Thanks be to God," apparently to keep up residents' spirits, since it was well before the call to dawn Muslim prayers.

Iraqis search for downed pilots, but U.S. denies any shot down

For hours Sunday, thousands of excited Iraqis gathered on an embankment along the Tigris River in the heart of Baghdad, and on a bridge above, to cheer on soldiers. The Iraqi troops were hunting, or so the word went, for an American or British pilot said to have parachuted from his stricken plane high above the city and dropped into the river's murky waters.

Whether there ever was a stricken plane, or any fugitive pilot, was unresolved well into the night, when soldiers with rifles were still firing into the riverbank bulrushes and setting them afire, and powerboats with frogmen were still cruising the river, searchlights scanning for the pilot.

At an evening news conference, the defense minister, Gen. Sultan Hashim, evaded questions about other official claims that as many as five coalition aircraft had been shot down, and stayed silent, too, on the question of the hunt along the river. "When we have any information to give you, we will tell you," he said.

At the U.S. Central Command in Qatar, Army Lt. Gen. John Abizaid denied that any coalition planes had been shot down.

"No planes have been shot down. No pilots have parachuted," he said. "You can see by their actions -- shooting into the water -- that their search-and-rescue techniques leave a lot to be desired," he added.

-- Information from the New York Times, Washington Post, Associated Press and Cox News Service was used in this report.

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