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U.S.: Saddam's Status Unknown

U.S.: Saddam's Status Unknown

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- For U.S. leaders, the latest airstrike aimed at Saddam Hussein has returned the Iraqi president to the limbo he had occupied after the first bombs nearly three weeks ago. Officials just don't know if he is alive or dead.

After videotapes were aired last week in which Saddam seemed to refer to wartime events, officials said he probably had survived the March 20 strike aimed at killing him.

Then on Monday, U.S. intelligence learned that Saddam and sons were possibly going to attend a meeting with Iraqi intelligence officials in a building in the al-Mansour neighborhood of western Baghdad.

The site was in the same general part of Baghdad where Iraqi television had shown Saddam being mobbed by supporters on Friday, said one U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The intelligence information was passed to U.S. Central Command, which directed a B-1B bomber to the site. Forty-five minutes later, it dropped four bombs.

"We characterize that strike as being very, very effective," said Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, vice director of the Pentagon's Joint Staff, to a news conference. "What we have for battle damage assessment right now is essentially a hole in the ground ... where we believed high-value targets were."

Three houses were destroyed. It was unclear who was within, and whether there were any survivors. Tuesday, Iraqi rescue workers recovered bodies from the debris with a bulldozer. The body of a child and part of a young woman were pulled from the site.

Two of the bombs dropped were bunker-busters, designed to penetrate underground tunnels. However, officials said they had no specific information that there were underground facilities at the site. The bombs were apparently dropped in case there were.

Some U.S. officials described the target as a restaurant, although an AP reporter at the scene saw the only restaurant in the neighborhood was some distance away and still intact. American defense and intelligence officials insisted Tuesday the right target had been struck.

Whether or not Saddam H is still alive -- the Pentagon says it looks like some key elements of his Republican Guard are still functioning.

And Major General Stanley McChrystal tells reporters at the Pentagon that the elite troops appear to be following orders from someone -- perhaps from Saddam himself.

But he says in many cases, the Republican Guard isn't able to follow those orders -- so "they're not an effective fighting force."

Still, he says it looks like Saddam may still be in control of elements of the guard -- as well as some death squads.

Determining Saddam's status remains the same challenge it has been since the war began.

Officials described the overall intelligence on Saddam's whereabouts and status as often lacking, and sometimes frustratingly contradictory.

American troops do not control the al-Mansour neighborhood and are therefore unable to search the rubble. Officials dismissed any discussion of forensic investigations of the site as premature and speculative.

The status of Saddam's sons Qusai and Odai are similarly unknown.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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