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Saddam: not as dead as they think he is

March 24 2003 at 01:20PM

Dubai - Iraqi President Saddam Hussein taunted his tormentors once again on Monday, suggesting not only that he is alive but also very much kicking.

Attempts by London and Washington to bury the man who has wielded brute power in Baghdad for three decades, proved premature as he popped up on Iraqi state television for the second time since the war began last Thursday.

The 65-year-old survivor offered clear evidence that he had witnessed at least the early stages of the US-led war to oust his regime.

Saddam made repeated references to continuing battles with invading US and British forces in the southern Iraqi town of Umm Qasr, congratulating Iraqi troops on their stiff resistance, and to the advance of coalition troops towards Baghdad.

US experts already conceded a first speech aired on Thursday shortly after an attempt to "decapitate" him with cruise missiles appeared to have been the real Saddam, and not one of several suspected doubles.

However, with security a life-or-death concern in Baghdad, it has never been clear whether such speeches are live or recorded.

But that mattered little as the latest battle references were enough to mock the repeated affirmations of British and US officials that Saddam had been at least hurt if not finished off in Thursday's pre-emptive strike.

Even late Sunday, as the United States backed off on assertions he might be dead, British Foreign Office minister Mike O'Brien was still announcing that London had information that Saddam had been carted off in an ambulance.

Not only did the "great leader" show himself to the world, he boldly predicted "victory is near".

His crowing will have done nothing to reassure US and British generals who have found the going tough in the first five days of a war which many expected to be a swift campaign of liberation.

Saddam offered a promise of worse to come.

"The more they advance into Iraqi territory, the more they head into a dead end," he said amid reports that US and British forces were 150km from the capital.

The war would be "long and with heavy consequences" for coalition forces, he warned. "Hit your enemy with force and precision," Saddam told the troops. "Cut their throats. The enemy is stuck in Iraqi territory. Hit it.

"Victory is near," he assured.

The whole televised show only added to the growing impression that the world's mightiest army faces an enemy who will not surrender.

Indeed, Saddam has been a master of deception in somehow turning defeat into victory.

Terrible bloodshed in the stalemated 1980-1988 war with Iran and the disastrous invasion of Kuwait in 1990 are today celebrated with great state pomp by the nationalist Baath regime.

A life spent avoiding would-be assassins, a prison escape dressed up as a woman, temporary exile and a long battle to win over total power present a picture of a redoubtable foe.

His survival instincts have become infamous.

Saddam has repeatedly been written off, by diplomats and foreign doctors queueing up to tell how the Iraqi president was riddled with cancer or opposition figures relating coup attempts and shootouts.

A rare public appearance at a huge military parade in Baghdad in January 2001 saw Saddam fire off a shotgun held in one hand, defying rumours he was weak and dying.

It nonetheless led elements of the Iraqi opposition to claim Saddam had over-exerted himself, suffered a stroke and died. - Sapa-AFP


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