Saddam Addresses Iraqi People

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Saddam Hussein on Iraqi TV Monday, March 24, 2003

A calm and composed Saddam Hussein delivered a speech on Iraqi TV just after 11a.m. Baghdad time on Monday. Although it?s almost certain that the speech was not live, Saddam did reference recent events, leaving even the most skeptical analysts to conclude that last week?s U.S. strikes apparently did not kill or severely injure the Iraqi leader.

The Iraqi president called upon his country to fight the American invaders. This is his second broadcast since the U.S. strike against him. Saddam referred to the heroic Iraqi resistance against the American-led invasion, and specifically mentioned the battle to defend the southern Iraqi port of Umm Qasr—a fierce fight that had received much news attention throughout Sunday. That reference alone appeared to be fairly solid proof that Saddam had indeed survived the March 20th blitz.

Saddam speech was a pep talk for the troops. He urged continued resistance and praised the battle performance of Iraqi soldiers, paramilitaries, policemen and tribal warriors. The speech was punctuated by Islamic references and cries of ?Allahu Akbar? (?God is Great?). Saddam scoffed at U.S. plans for a quick victory, making clear that Iraq's strategy is to draw American forces into a military and political quagmire. "The enemy is working on making (the war) short," Saddam said, "and we, with the will of God, are working on making it long and heavy, so that the enemy will sink in the mud until he chokes, is beaten and will be cursed."

Saddam mentioned no specific date but referred to the resistance of "today and before today." After Saddam mentioned the Umm Qasr battle, he proceeded to cite by name numerous Iraqi soldiers who proved their heroism in the defense of the city. He also saluted the residents of Basra, the largest city in southern Iraq, as well as Iraqis living in Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul. "O heroic mujahedeen, hit your enemy hard!" Saddam said. "O noble Iraqis, with your strength and spirit of jihad, hit him so that he cannot commit more crimes against you, your nation and humanity. Then you will have victory, our martyrs will have the pride of paradise and you will have the pride of glory."

Beyond buoying his forces, the speech also held a message for the international community. Saddam said that he had tried to avert the war, even though his efforts may have been taken by some as a sign of weakness. He then called on Iraqis to be strong and patient and vowed that God would grant them victory. He saluted "the people of the tribes, Saddam's fedayeen (commanded by his son Uday), the men of the national security and the men of the armed forces" for their roles in the fighting so far.

If the Iraqi leader had been injured during the March 20th attack, it was evident during this speech. In fact, he appeared relatively healthy. He was sitting throughout the address and wearing a neatly pressed green military uniform and repeatedly turned the pages of his speech with his right hand. At one point near the end of his speech he took the thick sheaf of papers that contained the address and clapped them down on the podium, using both hands. There were, however, brief moments when he appeared at least slightly out of breath.

Saddam made no mention of his sons Qusay and Uday, who play leading roles in commanding Iraqi regular and paramilitary units, respectively, and who U.S. officials have suggested may also have been hit in the March 20 strike. He also did not talk about the battle with U.S. forces Sunday in the southern city of Nasiriyeh, nor of the U.S. soldiers killed and taken prisoner there. The omission seemed to be an indication that the speech may have been pre-recorded sometime on Sunday before the news from Nasiriyeh had become clear.

Iraqi TV had repeatedly announced to viewers that the speech from Saddam was coming up shortly. In the hour before Saddam appeared on the screen, the TV broadcast Arabs singing patriotic songs, images of Saddam and pictures of Iraqi national landmarks, including the military parade ground in Baghdad that features two sets of huge crossed swords. The broadcast was introduced and ended with martial music as the screen displayed the eagle that is the Iraqi national symbol. Saddam sat in what appeared to be a makeshift studio, with a backdrop consisting of what seemed to be an ordinary, wrinkled white bed sheet, with an Iraqi flag on Saddam's right and the Iraqi eagle symbol attached to the sheet over his left shoulder. There were two microphones attached to the podium, and he wore a third on his uniform shirt.

He is seen reading from large white pieces of paper, not wearing the glasses he was seen in during his previous TV address. There were only a few sentences written on each piece of paper, and he turned through them quickly. He read his statement in his familiar throaty monotone, occasionally raising his voice but otherwise showing little overt emotion including anger. He looked much more composed, exhibiting his customary defiant confidence in comparison to the shaken figure seen in the broadcast last Thursday.

The broadcast repeatedly cut between angles from two different cameras. But it was not immediately clear to the naked eye that the broadcast had been edited. Both the images and the sound recording seemed continuous and uncut.

Saddam's first broadcast to the nation came a few hours after the strikes early on March 20, but U.S. officials speculated that it could have been pre-recorded prior to the bombing raid. Some even suggested that the speaker may have been a body double rather than Saddam himself. This speech, too, may have been pre-recorded but it was clearly done recently given the references to recent battles.

According to U.S. officials, President Bush ordered U.S. forces to strike the Baghdad bunker where Saddam and his sons were believed to be sleeping. They said that three dozen Tomahawk missiles, outfitted with 1,000-lb. warheads and fired from six battleships in the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, slammed into three targeted buildings in Baghdad. In addition, two U.S. F-117 warplanes from an air base in Qatar dropped four 2,000-lb. bombs on the underground bunker believed to be housing Saddam, Qusay and Uday. The CIA received an intelligence report that one of Saddam's sons was either killed or seriously injured while a second intelligence report cited sources who saw Saddam carried out of the rubble on a stretcher.