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New tapes deepen Saddam mystery

Doha, April 19 (AP): It’s still not known if Saddam Hussein is alive or dead, in exile or in hiding, and the emergence of two new tapes has deepened the mystery.

The theory that Saddam was killed in an April 7 bombing by coalition forces suffered a blow with the broadcast yesterday of a videotape purporting to show him alive two days later and an audiotape with a voice that sounds like his.

Some experts believe the deposed Iraqi leader could be using his vast wealth and the extensive connections cultivated over decades at the helm of a police state to stay safe in his own country. “It’s possible he could be hiding among his loyalists,” said Anthony Cordesman, a West Asia expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. “It’s possible he may try to change his appearance.”

However, Cordesman notes: “All of this is just pure guess work. Until you see indicators and real evidence, I’m not sure West Asia needs another conspiracy theory.”

Abu Dhabi TV, which broadcast the tapes yesterday, says the source that provided them said they were made on April 9, two days after US forces bombed the building Saddam was thought to have entered in Baghdad’s upscale al-Mansour neighborhood.

US defence officials said yesterday they haven’t fully evaluated the tapes.

In the video, a man resembling Saddam is shown waving to a cheering crowd in Baghdad’s Aadhamiyah neighbourhood. In a separate tape recording, a voice sounding like Saddam’s warns that conquered people will “eventually triumph over invaders.”

Abu Dhabi TV did not reveal its source, and Saddam is long believed to have employed doubles to fool potential assassins. The tapes bore no visible time stamps.

The US is focusing its search for Saddam in Baghdad and his hometown of Tikrit, but there is also speculation that he may have fled Iraq.

West Asian countries have taken in expelled leaders in the past. In 1979, Saudi Arabia gave refuge to Uganda’s one-time dictator Idi Amin. Tunisia took in Palestinian chief Yasser Arafat in 1982. The US has already accused Syria of providing refuge to members of Saddam’s regime — an accusation Damascus denies. Observers say it is unlikely Syria or any other country would want to shelter Saddam.

“As far as the surrounding countries go, I think it would be very difficult to imagine Iran, Turkey, Syria, Saudi Arabia or Jordan taking him in,” said Anne Joyce, editor of the Washington-based journal Middle East Policy. “I think the whole world has thrown in the towel on Saddam Hussein.” Iraq’s ambassador to Serbia-Montenegro, who was loyal to Saddam, said he was confident the leader was killed in the US bombing of Baghdad. “I know his character,” Sami Sadoun said yesterday. “The defence of Baghdad would not have collapsed so quickly if he was not dead.”

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