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U.S. thinks early strike shook Iraq's leadership

Pentagon: Apparent disarray has delayed heavy bombing

From David Ensor, Jamie McIntyre and John King

Iraqi television broadcast a message from Saddam Hussein early Thursday morning, hours after a strike on one of his residences.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. intelligence and Bush administration officials are debating whether Saddam Hussein survived the first strike of the war and to what degree his senior leadership has been shaken.

Regardless of the Iraqi leader's fate, the apparent disarray within the Iraqi leadership was enough to delay the original war plan, which called for an immediate and extensive bombing campaign to create "shock and awe" among Iraqi soldiers.

Pentagon officials said Iraq has offered a weak organized response to the U.S. military strikes, indicating that the leadership structure might have been disrupted. So before launching a full-scale attack, they are waiting for evidence that the regime might be collapsing and that widespread defections could make the "shock and awe" strategy unnecessary.

However, the bombardment could still be ordered at any time. The situation is fluid, and if it turns out that Saddam is alive and in effective control of his military, the U.S. strategy could change, Pentagon officials said.

Shortly after the strike on Saddam's family compound early Thursday, Iraqi television broadcast a message from the Iraqi leader, in which he stated the day's date, March 20.

U.S. intelligence officials now believe that the man giving the broadcast was Saddam, not a look-alike. They are still trying to determine whether the message was taped before the attack in order to give the impression to the Iraqi people that he was alive and well in case he had been killed earlier. (Full story)

Intelligence officials told CNN that "real convincing evidence" indicated the Iraqi leader, along with his two sons, Uday and Qusay, might have been inside the leadership compound at the time of the attack.

In its Friday editions, The Washington Post quotes an administration official as saying that evidence indicated Saddam might have been injured because medical attention was urgently summoned on his behalf.

President Bush ordered the strike on the compound after being told by CIA Director George Tenet that intelligence information put Saddam, and possibly his sons, inside. A senior intelligence official told CNN that it was "very likely" that the Iraqi leader was inside the compound at the time Tenet presented the information to Bush.

Intelligence officials point out that if, for whatever reason, the Iraqi leader no longer has effective control over his military, his condition and survival might be moot points.

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