Is Saddam alive and in command?
According to official Iraqi sources, the answer is yes.
This CNN account
describes a taped meeting of Saddam and his advisers which is said to have occurred on March 29 (Saturday). This, obviously, is after the initial attack of the war in which Saddam was a target, and is intended to show that Saddam is alive and in control. It is only one of many such tapes. But they all seem to suffer from the same flaw: None of the tapes contains sufficient information to establish when it was made. We are supposed to take their word for it.
According to official coalition sources, the answer is no because there doesn't seem to be any evidence of Saddam's having survived the March 20 attack. The coalition spokesmen note the foregoing flaws in the tapes emanating from Iraq, and also state that neither the conduct of the war nor the existence of radio communications between Baghdad and the front line indicate that Saddam is alive and in control.
I cannot comment on the evidence of Saddam's survival based on Iraq's conduct of the war or sigint because (surprise!) I don't have access to that intelligence. The same is not true of what Iraq has produced, however.
Consider this MSNBC report
concerning the suicide bomber who recently killed four US servicemen and himself:
Iraqi television said Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had awarded the man, identified by the TV report as Ali Hammadi al-Namani, with two posthumous medals.
And CNN says
"Iraq TV announced Sunday that President Saddam Hussein would give the family of the man who carried out Saturday's attack 100 million dinars, or about $35,000."
"Iraqi television said..." "Iraq TV announced ..." Press releases. Why just press releases? Why not personal appearances?
Saddam is no slouch at propaganda, and no shrinking violet when it comes to TV cameras. This was a perfect opportunity for Saddam to personally announce the award of these decorations and to personally hand over the Iraqi equivalent of the Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes Prize Patrol check, with the name of the bomber's family on it in big letters. Such an appearance would have put an end to questions of whether or not he survived that initial attack on March 20. Taped or live, it would make no difference, because the event being rewarded occurred well after the attack.
And that is not the only opportunity missed by a Saddam who is supposedly alive and in control. There have literally been hundreds of times Saddam could have commented on specific events which occurred after March 20. Civilian deaths in Baghdad. An Apache helicopter down. A Predator UAV down. Specific numbers of POWs. Names of POWs. Specific battles within Iraq. Missile attacks on Kuwait. The list is practically endless. He does not seem to have done so. As a result, even though I cannot comment on the "no evidence based on the conduct of the war and signals intelligence" claim by coalition officials, I am nevertheless leaning heavily towards dead, or at least wounded and not in full command of himself, much less Iraq.
There was also (I think) one post attack "appearance" in which Saddam praised various military leaders by name, including at least one who had surrendered. I may be wrong about that one, though, or it might turn out that the surrender had not yet happened, that Saddam simply did not yet know about it, or that the surrender never really happened at all.
Is it important? Well, Iraqi officials seem to think so, otherwise they would not bother with the videotaped appearances. The same seems to be true of the leadership of the coalition, which mounted the initial attack and is obviously courting a post-Saddam Iraqi uprising in order to avoid having to take Baghdad (and maybe Basra) street by street.
Both sides clearly think its important to establish whether or not Saddam is alive and in control. Just as clearly, there are simple and effective ways for Iraq to conclusively answer that question in the affirmative, which pose absolutely no danger to Saddam. After all, they are already taping him. Why not tape him with audio, handing over the medals and a check to the family of the person he is hailing as a hero for having killed four GIs and himself? Why not show him praising the farmer who is supposed to have shot down the Apache with the equivalent of a hunting rifle? What about showing him lauding the magnificent job his people did in their missile attack on a Kuwaiti shopping mall? The only logical conclusion that can be reached from the fact that Iraq has not conclusively answered the question of whether Saddam is alive and in control in the affirmative is that it is not possible to do so.
I think we nailed him.
I am open to suggestions on how to use that fact in prosecuting the war.
UPDATE 4/1/03: Saddam was supposed to make a speech on TV this morning. He was a no show. I wondered why the regime would schedule an appearance by the Maximum Leader and then not produce. I also remembered a couple of reports to the effect that Hussein's family was attempting to flee the country. Could it be that Hussein is actually alive, considers the war lost and is constructing the fiction of his own death so as to avoid post war difficulties such as trial for war crimes and/or crimes against humanity?
Either way, it will make no difference as to whether or how we use Hussein's death (or "death") in the war.