Once again the question is being asked, is Saddam Hussein alive? For the second time in this war, the Iraqi dictator has been targeted for death by coalition bombing raids.
The first strike, the night of March 19, launched the war when two U.S. Air Force stealth fighters - acting on an intelligence tip - bombed one of Saddam's Baghdad homes, setting off much speculation he was killed. Intelligence sources eventually came to believe he survived.
Another intelligence tip led to Monday's raid in which a U.S. B-1 bomber dropped four precision-guided, 2,000-pound, bunker-buster bombs on a hide-out facility behind or beneath a restaurant located in the well-to-do al-Mansour section of western Baghdad.
The "sensitive" information, reportedly cross-checked with other sources, made the Pentagon "confident" that the Iraqi dictator, sons Odai and Qusai and other top leaders were meeting there, a U.S. official said. "Our intelligence was solid," he added.
But it will likely take some time to determine whether Saddam and his sons were killed.
For starters, the site of the blast was still in Iraqi hands Tuesday and they were digging out bodies which included more than the people in the bunker. People also were killed in the restaurant and possibly in nearby homes as well.
Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks at U.S. Central Command in Qatar said the strike was a success as far as hitting its target, "but we don't know all the circumstances of what happened to those who were contained inside."
Brooks said it will take time and detailed forensic work to establish who was killed. Digging and DNA testing could take weeks or months, and even then may not be conclusive in establishing identities.
Intelligence sources might have better luck determining the fate of Saddam and his sons via chatter and intercepts of the Arab world. If the head of the snake has really been severed, word will spread soon enough. It won't be necessary to wait for scientific proof.
But as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, it's irrelevant whether Saddam is dead or alive. What is relevant is that his regime is dying, regardless of whether he has.
The dictator's Baath Party and Republican Guard have lost control of nearly all of Iraq, except for Baghdad, and their grip there becomes looser by the hour.
Saddam - as a powerful political and military force - is, for all practical purposes, already dead.
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