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Screen Saddam strikes back
- on tv: today and last thursday

Baghdad, March 24 (Reuters): Iraqi President Saddam Hussein said in a speech televised today that US-led invaders sent to topple him were trapped after underestimating Iraqi resistance and that the “evil ones” were doomed to defeat.

“I herald the near-victory for our patient fighters,” Saddam said on Iraqi state television, dimming speculation that he had been killed or wounded in early air raids. “These are decisive days, oh Iraqis, so attack as God ordered.”

“After underestimating you ... the enemy is trapped in the sacred land of Iraq which is being defended by its great people and army,” he said, wearing a military uniform and reading a speech from behind a podium.

Saddam praised some Iraqi commanders, including those at the southern port of Umm Qasr where the US-led forces have faced stiff resistance. He said “victory is very near” in Basra, southern Iraq, which the US and British tank units were trying to secure.

“I make special mention of ...the general who lifted high the banner of jihad and the name of Iraq in the epic battle of Umm Qasr, him and his men,” Saddam said.

It was not clear when or where the 20-minute speech was delivered but the references to the fighting suggested it was no more than a day or two old. Saddam branded his opponents “evil ones” and called President George W. Bush “satanic”.

In Washington, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said CIA analysts would examine the speech to try and determine if it was Saddam’s voice. Diplomats say Saddam has a number of doubles but they rarely speak when they stand in for him.

“But that’s only half of the problem because even if it’s his voice it doesn’t give you any indication about when it was taped,” Fleischer said. “We don’t know when it was recorded, how old it may be, whether it is new.”

British defence secretary Geoff Hoon also said the broadcast was not live but it would make no difference to the military campaign if Saddam is alive or dead. Saddam rarely, if ever, gives live televised speeches.

Reuters correspondents in Baghdad and elsewhere in West Asia said they believed it was Saddam.

Saddam said Iraqi forces had inflicted serious losses on the US-led forces since the invasion began on Thursday. “The more they lose, the more they will bombard you,” he warned Iraqis.

“Oh Arabs, oh faithful of the world, oh those who support justice and oppose evil, we herald the victory that God has promised us in the conflict against the lowlifes and enemies of humanity,” he said.

He later appeared again on state television, smiling and in uniform, with his powerful younger son Qusay at a meeting with a Basra provincial leader of the ruling Baath Party. It was not clear when the meeting took place.

Speculation has abounded about Saddam’s fate since the war started on Thursday with air strikes on Baghdad intended to kill the Iraqi leadership. Some reports said he might be dead, others that he was so badly wounded he had to receive blood transfusion. As the speech ended, new explosions could be heard in the Iraqi capital. Saddam did not react.

Shortly after the first US-led attack on Baghdad on Thursday, a tired-looking Saddam had appeared on television, in a military uniform, urging his people to fight. But the CIA said the speech could have been pre-recorded.

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