WASHINGTON – U.S. intelligence officials said Friday it was almost certainly Saddam Hussein, not a look-alike, who appeared in a video recording on Iraqi television a few hours after he was targeted by an American air strike.
It is unclear whether the message was recorded before or after the strike, however. Officials said some reports indicate Saddam pre-recorded several speeches to air during fighting.
The video showed Saddam, in military uniform, reading from a steno pad and exhorting Iraqis to fight American invaders. Intelligence officials said that an analysis of the speaker's voice, inflections and facial movements led them to believe it was Saddam.
While Saddam read the date -- March 20 -- during his speech, that could have been pre-recorded. He did not speak specifically of the attack on him or other events that would positively confirm the message was recorded after the attacks.
CIA and military analysts were vigorously reviewing this and other clues about the fate of Saddam, his inner circle and his two powerful sons who were also targeted in the attacks. Senior officials cautioned Friday that they do not know whether Saddam or his sons are alive or dead.
U.S. intelligence believes they were inside a residential compound bombarded by American forces. Government officials were examining a request for medical attention that could indicate injuries to the senior Iraqi leaders.
"We have reason to believe he was still in there," one senior U.S. official said.
The officials said they believed medical attention was urgently summoned to the compound in the aftermath of the attack. One senior military official said the manner in which the help was summoned raised the possibility Saddam himself or someone of high-level importance in the Iraqi leadership was injured.
But other officials cautioned there was nothing definitive. "It is not clear exactly on whose behalf the medical attention was summoned," one U.S. official said.
U.S. officials said intelligence indicated Saddam was still in the compound when U.S. bombs and missiles rained down late Wednesday night Washington time, about six hours after U.S. intelligence first detected that Saddam and his leadership might be there.
The attack, which involved ship-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles and bombs dropped from stealth fighters, was aimed at a residential complex where U.S. intelligence believed Saddam, and possibly his sons, were sleeping.
Naval missile strikes in Baghdad also were aimed at the headquarters of the Special Republican Guard, a paramilitary force that was expected to defend Baghdad from any U.S. assault, and other security organizations.
After the attack, intelligence reports indicated Iraq's leaders were not organizing any coordinated response across their country, suggesting the leadership might be in chaos or cut off from communicating with field commanders.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said military planners had good reason to believe top Iraqi leaders may be losing control of their forces.
"We are in communication with still more people who are officials of the military at various levels -- the regular army, the Republican Guard, the Special Republican Guard -- who are increasingly aware that it's going to happen, he's going to be gone," Rumsfeld said.
U.S. intelligence suspected Saddam's sons, Qusai and Odai, might have been with him during the strike. Both hold high-level security positions. Qusai, the younger son, was believed to be Saddam's likely successor.
A second tape of Saddam may have aired later Thursday. Officials had no information on that recording.
If Saddam survived, U.S. officials hoped the surprise attack at least would leave him distrustful of his inner circle and suspecting betrayal by one of his advisers, leaving him less able to command.