The war's length hinges on cutting off Saddam from his troops, experts say.
WASHINGTON -- U.S. intelligence officials said today they have determined that it was almost certainly Saddam Hussein, not a look-alike, who appeared on a video recording that aired on Iraqi television a few hours after he was targeted by an American air strike.
However, officials say it is unclear whether the message was recorded before or after the strike. They said some reports indicate Saddam pre-recorded several speeches to air during fighting.
The video showed Saddam, in military uniform, reading from a steno pad and exhorting Iraqis to fight American invaders. Intelligence officials said that an analysis of the speaker's voice, inflections and facial movements led them to believe it was Saddam.
Government officials said that U.S. intelligence believes Saddam was inside a compound bombarded by American forces and were examining a request for medical attention that could indicate injuries to senior Iraqi leaders.
CIA and military analysts were vigorously reviewing clues about the fate of Saddam, his inner circle and his two powerful sons who were targeted in the attacks.
The 40 Tomahawk missiles that the United States fired Wednesday night to officially start the war were intended to take out the Iraqi leader and whoever else he might have been huddling with.
"If we didn't get him, he needs to be concerned with what the U.S. government may know about his location at any time," a U.S. official says. "It sends a strong signal to Saddam Hussein that we're onto him."
Key to the war
For all the talk of U.S. military supremacy, the success of the war in Iraq will pivot in part on something far more tenuous -- a needle-in-a-haystack search.
The ability of U.S. forces to find Saddam and his ruling clique, as well as any weapons of mass destruction or Scud missiles he might harbor, will help determine the length of the war and the number of casualties that may result on both sides. It will also help shape political perceptions after the war.
Those efforts won't necessarily require huge amounts of firepower, but will involve on-the-ground intelligence, precision strikes and more than a little serendipity.
Saddam can be wily. He is known to have three body doubles whose facial features have been surgically altered to make them look exactly like the Iraqi dictator. He has more than 50 palaces, as well as hundreds of bunkers with networks of tunnels connecting them. Saddam is known to occasionally spend the night in private residences, and he never sleeps in the same bed two nights in a row. Add to that a personal security detail of 16,000 fiercely loyal warriors.
From the opening salvos, U.S. forces will be trying to separate the Iraqi leadership from the people. Other than killing Saddam outright, the United States could try to cut him off so thoroughly from his military leadership that they, themselves, take his life. That, in effect, will create the regime change that is the primary goal of the Bush administration.
The other crucial and immediate aim -- to be carried out by air strikes and Special Forces, plus CIA paramilitary teams already operating inside Iraq -- is to search out and destroy weapons of mass destruction, as well as the infamous Scud missiles so effectively employed in the 1991 Gulf War and already fired at Kuwait on Thursday.
"The remnants of Saddam Hussein's coterie, his security forces, have to be totally disbanded," says a former Army commander who participated in the 1991 Gulf War and still advises Pentagon planners. "And I think the finding and destruction of WMD certainly has to be one of those metrics we look at as far as measurements are concerned."
Still, no one expects any parts of these missions to be easy. Saddam knows this may be the end for him, and both military and outside experts say he is likely to try anything when backed into a corner. The expectation is that he will hunker down in his bunkers and draw the war on as long as possible. He would likely unleash any chemical or biological weapons his forces may be capable of using. And some predict he could even unleash them on his own civilians and try to make it look as though the United States is the perpetrator.
"Once we start an attack, Hussein doesn't have any incentive to restrain himself," says Frank Anderson, a former CIA Near East division chief with several years experience in the region. "The limits on what he will do are his capabilities rather than any other considerations."
But U.S. intelligence services have had a long time to study his habits and identify his hideouts. And Pentagon planners have devised means to penetrate his fortressed bunkers.
Several Special Forces and CIA paramilitary teams are already operating inside Iraq's borders. In addition, thousands of Special Forces troops are to be dropped in as the "shock and awe" bombing campaign begins, according to retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who led a major ground force operation in the 1991 Gulf war.
The Special Forces and paramilitary teams will be targeting leadership facilities, as well as sites that may contain weapons of mass destruction.
Intelligence officials and outside experts say Saddam has squandered millions of his U.N. oil-for-food money to build fortified palatial compounds -- some encompassing as many as 90 buildings.
And a German firm reportedly was paid $150 million to build a bunker 100 feet underground that can endure missile and bomb blasts.