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Another Speech, But Still No Saddam

Soldier with Task Force 2-69 Armor, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, of 3rd Infantry Division holds photo of Sadaam Hussein taken from building in Kifl, Iraq, Saturday. Another soldier added the crosshairs.
AP
Declaring that "victory is at hand," Iraqi President Saddam Hussein issued a new statement urging Iraqis to fight on and defend their towns, according to a broadcast Wednesday on Iraqi satellite television.

In the statement, which was read by an Iraqi news anchor in a military uniform, Saddam repeatedly called upon his people to fight and said the Iraqi armed forces have not used their full capabilities in the battle.

"Fight them so that Iraq, the bastion of religion and principles, will be secured and our (Islamic) nation will come out of this crisis glorious," the statement said. "Fight them. Victory is at hand, God willing, although we have only utilized a third or less of our army while the criminals have used everything they brought in."

"Their failure was manifested and victory is glowing, God willing," the statement said.

The statement singled out the 11th Division of the Iraqi army and Baath Party members in Nasariyah and other southern towns who have "exhausted" the coalition forces, and urged Iraqis to follow their example in defending their cities.

The statement, which was monitored in Doha, Qatar, was different from another broadcast Tuesday night in which Saddam called for Iraqis to wage jihad, or holy war, against coalition forces. That statement was read by Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf.

There was no way to verify if either of the statements actually came from Saddam.

Saddam has made two televised speeches since the war began on March 20, one in the opening hours of the fighting and another four days later.

However, it was unclear when either was recorded by the Iraqi leader, whose offices and residences have been repeatedly bombarded by missiles from U.S. ships and warplanes.

In those earlier appearances, the Iraqi leader referred to fighting and some of the areas involved, but that could have been predicted before the conflict.

The White House Tuesday raised new doubts about Saddam's status.

Ari Fleischer, spokesman for President Bush, said the administration has nothing "hard, concrete to report," but questioned why the regime has not offered proof Saddam still lives.

"We don't know if he is alive or if he is dead," he said. "The ways that you would know is if you would see him in a live broadcast. If he was live or he showed something contemporaneous, he would speak about an event that just took place that day or the night before, then you might have information that he is alive."

Fleischer added the fact that "he failed to show up for his scheduled appearance today raises additional questions."

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials have made much in recent days of the fact that Saddam hasn't been seen in public since the air strike.

Rumsfeld also asked: "Where are Iraq's leaders?"

"The night before the ground war began, coalition forces launched a strike on a meeting of Iraq's senior command and control, and they have not been heard from since," Rumsfeld said at his briefing Tuesday.

"The fact that Saddam Hussein did not show up for his televised speech today is interesting," he added.

The top Iraqi leaders who have appeared publicly have insisted that Saddam is alive and directing his country's war effort.

Iraqi military units, including those of Saddam's elite Republican Guard, are showing no signs they are getting orders from top Iraqi leaders, Gen. Peter Pace said Monday, echoing what other U.S. military officials have been saying for days.

"There's no evidence of coordinated actions on the battlefield by these units," Pace said. "They're being destroyed in place without much leadership from above."

Pace and Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said Monday there were reports that some of Saddam's closest relatives were trying to leave Iraq. Rumsfeld mentioned such reports in interviews Sunday.

Some U.S. officials characterized those reports as unconfirmed rumors, including a specific report that Saddam's first wife was fleeing for Syria. The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, also said they have reports that the Iraqi regime has let it be known to Baghdad elites that they are to remain in the city.

There appears to be little confidence within the military that Saddam has been killed or incapacitated. A high-ranking military official described him as a "survivor."

That's an image Saddam has cultivated from early on in his career.

The lynchpin of his legend is Saddam's role in the 1959 assassination attempt on Iraqi Prime Minister Abdul Karim Qasim. Saddam was wounded in the failed attack, but still managed to swim across the Tigris, use a knife to dig a bullet out of his leg and walk to Damascus, before fleeing to Egypt.