U.S., British Intelligence Officers Disagree on Saddam's Fate

Published April 09, 2003

| FoxNews.com

While officials from the United States appeared cautiously optimistic Saddam Hussein had been killed in a targeted airstrike Monday, several media reports indicated their allies across the pond were more skeptical.

One British intelligence source told The Guardian newspaper that though Saddam was almost certainly in the targeted building at some point, he was "probably" not there when the bombs were dropped.

Another source told The Times of London, "We think he (Saddam) left the same way he arrived in the area, either by a tunnel system or by car, we’re not sure."

But the Washington Times reported that based on "multiple" intelligence sources who saw Saddam enter the targeted building but did not see him exit before the strike, American analysts were confident the Iraqi leader was no longer alive.

One source suggested the CIA already believes Saddam was hit, and a U.S. military official speaking on condition of anonymity told the Times, "They say there is no doubt he is dead."

Officials who spoke with Fox News were similarly hopeful: "There's a strong chance we got Saddam and probably both sons," one senior official said.

Officials stressed that it was too soon to be certain of the operation's outcome, but told Fox News they would know in a matter of days whether Saddam was dead or alive.

Regular DNA tests usually take at least three days to complete, though other tests of things such as fingerprints can produce results faster. It is not known what physical evidence, if any, from the site the coalition possesses.

Coalition forces have yet to completely secure the attack site, U.S. Central Command spokesman Capt. Frank Thorp told Fox News.

An Air Force B-1 bomber Monday dropped four 2,000-pound bombs on a target where Saddam was believed to be meeting with at least one of his two sons and other regime leaders.

The strike came at 3 p.m. Baghdad time (7 a.m. EST) in the upscale Mansour neighborhood. U.S. officials told Fox News that Central Command had received the first "solid" piece of intelligence an hour before the strike.

Saddam was believed to be in a structure attached to a restaurant or dining area, along with at least his son Udai and two to three dozen security or Baath party officers, officials told Fox News. They were discussing how to get out of Baghdad.

At least three buildings were destroyed in the attack, which left a crater 60 feet deep. The bombing broke windows and doors up to 300 yards away, ripped orange trees out by the roots and left a heap of concrete, mangled iron rods and shredded furniture and clothes.

Iraqi rescue workers using a bulldozer to search the rubble said three bodies were recovered -- those of a small boy, a young woman and an elderly man -- and that the death toll could be as high as 14.

Officials said they believed the target location had a bunker and underground tunnels. "Whoever was in there is dead," an official told Fox News.

"There's lots of digging and DNA tests involved."

"I don't know whether he survived," President Bush said in Northern Ireland, where he was meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. "The only thing I know is he's losing power."

Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, speaking to reporters Tuesday, made no mention of Saddam's fate, and rejected any suggestion that Iraq would surrender to the American forces drawing a noose around the regime.

"They will be burnt. We are going to tackle them," he said.

A U.S. official said the Pentagon was confident that Saddam and his sons were in the building. "Our intelligence was solid," the official said.

"We are certain he went in and we did not see him leave," military sources said.

Saddam was known to frequent the restaurant apparently because he thought coalition forces wouldn't target him so close to a civilian center.

Those close to Saddam have said he is so obsessed with security that very few people would know about his movements. He maintains dozens of residences and uses doubles to keep people guessing.

An exiled dissident told The Associated Press that only two people are kept posted about Saddam's whereabouts -- his son Qusai, who commands the Republican Guard and heads the security, and his private secretary, Abed Hameed Hmoud, a member of Saddam's Tikriti clan. Even Saddam's eldest son Odai is thought to be out of the loop because he is considered to be reckless.

Seif Hatef, 21, said some of his friends were among the victims of the attack on the three buildings. "Such attacks will make Iraqis more determined to resist. Iraq will remain and this war will never finish," he said.

In a telephone interview with reporters at the Pentagon from an undisclosed location in the Persian Gulf, a member of the B-1B crew that attacked the Baghdad site said the Air Force bomber had just finished an aerial refueling over western Iraq when it got the order to fly to the target.

Twelve minutes later, it dropped the four bombs, said Lt. Col. Fred Swan, the B-1B's weapons system officer.

Swan said they dropped two standard versions of the 2,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munition, known as a GBU-31, and two special "bunker buster" versions that penetrate a target before detonating. They were dropped at an altitude of more than 20,000 feet.

Of the intended target, he said he and the rest of the crew "knew it was important," and "might be the big one."

"We thought it was, given every thing we heard," he said.

Swan said the crew was told by an airborne air controller that directed the B-1B to its target that it might be "the big one."

Coalition strikes have aimed at top Iraqi leaders from the very start of the war.

On March 19, the opening night of the war, President Bush authorized a strike on a suburban Baghdad compound where Saddam and his sons were thought to be staying.

Earlier Monday, U.S. and British officials said they believed Saddam's top commander in southern Iraq, his first cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, had been killed in a U.S. airstrike at a house in Basra. Al-Majid, considered one of the most brutal and loyal members of Saddam's inner circle, was known as "Chemical Ali" for his role a 1988 poison gas attack that killed tens of thousands of Iraqi Kurds.

"We believe that the reign of terror of Chemical Ali has come to an end," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Monday. "To Iraqis who have suffered at his hand, particularly in the last few weeks in that southern part of the country, he will never again terrorize you or your families."

Fox News' Rita Cosby, Bret Baier, Jim Angle, David Lee Miller and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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