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Last Updated:  Monday, 24 March, 2003, 15:51 GMT
Analysis: Saddam on television

Paul Reynolds
BBC News Online world affairs correspondent

The two key words from Saddam Hussein's speech were "Umm Qasr".

When he used them, referring to the "heroic" resistance there, he appeared to disperse the propaganda put about by US and British officials that he was killed or severely wounded in the initial air attacks on a house where he was believed to be staying.

His appearance will rally those Iraqis who support him and make mass defections less likely.

TV might become a target

But it may add to the pressure on General Tommy Franks to make Iraqi TV a target. The US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Sunday that "it would be highly desirable to have completely, totally ended their ability to communicate." The parading of prisoners on Iraqi TV might hasten some form of action.

As recently as Friday, the word from one senior Western intelligence source was that Saddam Hussein might well have been killed.

Saddam Hussein
Saddam looked fit in his latest appearance
Even an hour or two before his latest appearance, there was a report that British electronic eavesdroppers at GCHQ in Cheltenham had picked up a phone message to Moscow asking for a surgeon to attend to a stomach wound Saddam Hussein had.

If he was dead or incapacitated, he could hardly have known about Umm Qasr.

He even mentioned the name of a unit fighting in Umm Qasr, the 45th Battalion of the 11th Division, thereby adding a touch of detail for credibility.

The balance of probabilities is that Saddam is alive and well
Con Coughlin, biographer

Whether the speech was live or recorded is probably irrelevant since Saddam Hussein could have recorded it in a safe location shortly before.

However, the British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, in remarks repeated by one of his juniors later, had another twist. He claimed that Saddam Hussein had made a number of pre-recorded broadcasts. These presumably were for use in a number of different eventualities.

So, even now, not everyone, it seems, accepts that Saddam Hussein is alive. In any event, they are trying to cast some doubt on the veracity of the broadcasts.

There will also be those who claim that the figure we saw was a double but that claim lacks reality.

The voice, rather high pitched, was distinctively his.

Even the CIA concluded that it was Saddam Hussein whom we saw on television the day after the attack which allegedly killed him.

In that appearance, he did look rather puffy but again, it was the voice which indicated that it was him.

The latest biographer of the Iraqi leader, veteran Middle East journalist Con Coughlin, said that "the balance of probabilities is that Saddam is alive and well".

Confident performance

So it can be assumed for practical purposes that Saddam Hussein is still around.

Saddam Hussein
There was speculation this was not the real Saddam

And he did look quite well.

Gone were the spectacles and the dishevelled nature of his hasty appearance after the bomb attack.

He was back to the rather confident kind of performance he is known for.

The studio was makeshift, with a white sheet behind him, a flag at one side and a nondescript desk at which he sat.

But given his need to avoid being at obvious locations such as his marbled palaces, that is to be expected.

His appearance also tells us one other vital thing: he is not giving up.

His language was full of fight.

His appearance also tells us one other vital thing: he is not giving up.

His language was full of fight. It will encourage his supporters and discourage those who might have given up.

He used one interesting device beyond the usual call to arms and victory.

He named Iraqi army commanders who had resisted and this appeared to be designed to counter coalition efforts to get them to surrender or claims that they had already done so.

Questions remain

In fact, there is little sign that senior commanders are giving up.

Even the coalition report of last week that the commander of the Iraqi 51st Division at Basra had surrendered was later downgraded to a "brigade" commander and the New York Times now says that the man concerned was actually a junior officer "masquerading as a higher-up in an attempt to win better treatment".

What the speech did not - could not - show was how much control he still has over his armed forces.

Before the war, he split the country up into autonomous commands so he had already devolved some authority at least.

But he calls the shots in Iraq and will not relinquish overall command.

The presumption has to be that a command structure remains and has not been destroyed by the "shock and awe" bombing so far.


SEE ALSO:
Saddam addresses nation - excerpts
24 Mar 03 |  Middle East
Saddam promises Iraqi victory
24 Mar 03 |  Middle East


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