A statement has been read on Iraqi television in the name of President Saddam Hussein appealing for the defeat of the U.S.-led coalition as it bears down on Baghdad.

The statement read on Iraqi television by the information minister, Mohammed Said al-Sahhaf, was the first time Iraq has publicly admitted that coalition forces are at the gates of Baghdad.

Quoting Saddam Hussein, the statement tried to assure Baghdad's residents that the capital will be defended.

"God help us to win and make them retreat from our capital. And we have decided to conquer all their army. And get them away from our land, the holy land of Islam," he said.

The failure of Saddam Hussein to deliver the address himself adds more fuel to the speculation about his fate.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri told British radio Friday, the president is alive, but he abruptly ended the interview when asked if he had personally seen Saddam Hussein recently.