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Dictator not vital for victory

Washington, April 4 (Reuters): The White House said today it would consider military action in Iraq a success even if US forces failed to find President Saddam Hussein, whose appearance on Iraqi television could prove he survived a US bombing raid on the first night of the war.

While finding Saddam — either dead or alive — would be “helpful,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said President George W. Bush’s “definition of victory” was removing the current government from power and eliminating the country’s alleged weapons of mass destruction.

Fleischer made the comments just before Iraqi television broadcast a speech apparently by Saddam urging the people of Baghdad to “strike the enemy with force” and predicted victory over the invading US and British troops.

In the address, Saddam mentioned the shooting down of a US Apache helicopter by an Iraqi farmer in late March. The mention of the incident, originally reported by Iraqi officials on March 24, may be the first clear proof the Iraqi President survived a US bombing on Baghdad on March 20 that targeted him and his two sons.

The White House had no immediate comment on Saddam’s address. If Saddam eludes US forces, he could join the ranks of America’s most wanted, a list now topped by al Qaida chief Osama bin Laden, whom Washington blames for the September 11 attacks on the US.

“What’s important in the President’s judgment is that the regime be disarmed and that the regime be changed so the Iraqi people can be free and liberated,” Fleischer said earlier.

“Certainly any clear resolution about Saddam Hussein’s fate helps provide some clarity to that,” Fleischer said. “But the definition of victory is those two factors that I cited, that the President has cited.” Bush administration officials are considering quickly installing an interim authority in areas under the control of US-led forces while the government in Baghdad is cut off from the rest of the country.

Several hundred US government officials are already encamped in Kuwait waiting on the word to go into Iraq to set up the post-war Iraq Interim Authority under the leadership for retired Gen. Jay Garner. A top contender to oversee Iraq's oil industry in the short-term is Phillip J. Carroll, Royal Dutch/Shell Group’s former CEO in US.

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