U.S. officials think man on TV was Hussein, not a double

But appearance might have been advance tape

War In Iraq

March 21, 2003|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - U.S. officials said yesterday that the man who appeared on Iraqi television shortly after a blistering U.S. attack on a Baghdad compound was most likely Saddam Hussein.

Still, some officials cautioned that it was not certain that he had survived the strike, which targeted senior Iraqi leaders, including Hussein.

They held out the possibility that the video might have been produced before the airstrike. Though Hussein mentioned yesterday's date in his appearance, he might have prepared some videos in advance, officials said.

Intelligence analysts spent the day studying a video of the television appearance, which showed Hussein sitting behind a desk, uncharacteristically wearing glasses and reading from a prepared text.

The appearance had raised questions because he appeared unusually pale and puffy.

U.S. officials used computerized equipment to analyze the man's facial and voice features, bone structure and mannerisms. They also dissected the speech itself and studied the inflection, voice patterns and, more specifically, the way the man's mouth moved as he spoke. Their review has so far led them to believe that it was "more likely than not" Hussein, and not one his body doubles.

The U.S. military attacked the bunker and several other sites, including one of Hussein's presidential palaces, in Baghdad with about 40 cruise missiles and precision-guided missiles from an F-117A Nighthawk attack aircraft, Pentagon officials said.

U.S. officials said intelligence reports had revealed that some "very senior leaders," possibly including Hussein and his two sons, who hold high positions of power in Iraq, were in the bunker.

Officials would not speculate on the number of Iraqi leaders who might have been killed or wounded in the attack.

U.S. officials withheld the overwhelming air and land attack that was expected to start the war on Iraq, one intelligence official said, after the CIA and other intelligence agencies homed in on the bunker and the chance to selectively hit top military leaders.

CIA Director George J. Tenet had informed President Bush on Wednesday of the fleeting opportunity to hit the leadership site, the official said. Tenet told Bush that a sudden "target of opportunity that made sense" had emerged, and they felt confident that top military leaders were planning to spend the night in the bunker.

Whether or not those members survived, U.S. officials said they believed the strike would aid their efforts in Iraq - even though a failure to kill or wound Hussein could be seen as a setback in the U.S. effort to topple his regime.

"This guy is paranoid, and completely obsessed with security and loyalty," one official said. "He now has to question whether he can trust any of his top leaders.

"The impact is significant."

Bush's spokesman, Ari Fleischer, said yesterday that Bush has given the military a go-ahead to move at its discretion once the right circumstances present themselves. The attack on the bunker to take out the leadership, he said, required a special order, which he signed.

"There are different matters that require different levels of approval," Fleischer said.

The Pentagon said it was trying to determine the extent of damage to the bunker yesterday. Officials said in order to keep Hussein's regime off balance, the were releasing little information about what they knew.

Staff writers Tom Bowman and David L. Greene contributed to this article.

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