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US Confirms Authenticity of Saddam TV Appearance - 2003-03-21

The White House says U.S. intelligence officials have confirmed the authenticity of a television appearance by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein broadcast after the start of the fighting.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the Central Intelligence Agency has concluded that it was Saddam Hussein who appeared on Iraqi television shortly after the start of bombing in Baghdad early Thursday.

The Iraqi leader has reportedly used body doubles in the past, giving rise to speculation that he might have been injured in that attack and the man on television might have been a Saddam impersonator.

While Mr. Fleichser said intelligence analysts have confirmed the authenticity of the tape, he said they have reached no conclusion on whether it was recorded before or after the fighting began.

President Bush met Friday with congressional leaders to brief them on the war and thank them for a resolution supporting U.S. troops.

"We are making progress," the president said. " We will stay on task until we have achieved our objective which is to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction and free the Iraqi people so they can live in a society that is hopeful and democratic and at peace in its neighborhood."

Mr. Fleischer said the president Friday sent his condolences and sympathies to all the families of coalition soldiers who have been killed in the operation. A U.S. Marine killed in southern Iraq Friday was the first combat death. A U.S. Marine helicopter crashed in northern Kuwait killing eight British and four American soldiers.

"All of us involved here in Washington are extremely proud of the skill and bravery of our young Americans who are willing to sacrifice for something greater than themselves," Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Fleischer said the deaths are a reminder that this could be a long, lengthy, and dangerous engagement for coalition troops.

Mr. Bush will spend the weekend at the presidential retreat at Camp David where he will convene a meeting of his war council Saturday to discuss the next phase of the fighting.