U.S. officials said a new videotape showing a downcast Saddam Hussein was probably filmed during the war, indicating that the Iraqi dictator may have survived the March 20 airstrike meant to kill him.
The video is purported to have been filmed April 9, the day Baghdad fell to U.S. forces. If that is true, the video would also show that he survived a second airstrike and could still be alive.
But a U.S. official said the CIA had not reached that conclusion because there were no specific references on the tape or other evidence proving it was made after the April 7 bombing of a home in the Mansour district of Baghdad where Hussein and top intelligence officials were said to be meeting.
The tape was obtained Friday in Baghdad by Associated Press Television News. It shows a tired and seemingly confused Hussein, dressed in military garb, seated at a table and reading prepared remarks.
In contrast to earlier, more defiant appearances, Hussein seems at times almost resigned to defeat.
At one point, he attempts to reassure Iraqis that “the duration of invasion or occupation” will be short lived and that loyal followers will eventually be able to expel American forces.
“The faithful will be victorious over the sinners, regardless of the duration of the struggle and the forms it might take,” Hussein says, according to Associated Press.
The reference to “forms” was seen as a suggestion that the war might evolve into a guerrilla campaign.
The tape is the latest to have surfaced since the start of the war. U.S. intelligence officials believe some of them -- particularly those showing Hussein wading through crowds of adoring Iraqis -- were taped well before the conflict began.
But officials said Hussein’s words and subdued tone in the latest tape made it unlikely that it predated the war.
“It’s clearly after the war started,” the U.S. official said. “If you were making tapes in advance to stockpile, you probably wouldn’t make them with him talking about temporary setbacks or ‘hang in there, it’s not as bad as it looks’ kind of stuff.”
The recording also includes some off-the-cuff remarks from Hussein, according to Associated Press. At the start of the taping, he tells aides: “The sooner we finish it, the better.”
At another point, Hussein appears confused, and reads the same passage twice. Later, as the session ends, he asks people out of range of the camera, “How was my reading as a whole? It’s OK.”
Asked whether this sullen Hussein appeared out of character, the U.S. official said, “Even the most optimistic or delusional of people can read the handwriting on the collapsing walls.”
Audio portions of the tape were previously played on Arab television.
A video excerpt from the Saddam Hussein tape is on The Times’ Web site at www.latimes.com/husseintape.