DALLAS - Vice President Dick Cheney said during a speech yesterday that he believes that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is dead.
He said the White House had received intelligence information about Hussein's location in Baghdad and that, soon after, U.S. forces launched the strike that began the war.
"I think we did get Saddam Hussein," Cheney told a capacity crowd at McFarlin Auditorium at Southern Methodist University. "He was seen being dug out of the rubble and wasn't able to breathe."
But Cheney said there was no way to know for sure whether the strike was successful.
"The most accurate answer is, we don't know. But we will find out," he said. "He's not Osama bin Laden. He would find it difficult to go from those palaces to a cave."
Cheney said he believes that bin Laden is still alive.
"He's used to living in the mountains," Cheney said.
But even as Cheney spoke, an Australian newspaper said it had received a new audiotape with a message from Hussein urging his countrymen to fight foreign occupation.
The Sydney Morning Herald said it received the 14-minute tape Monday from two men in Baghdad who said they were trying to get it to Al-Jazeera or Al-Arabiya, Arab satellite television channels. Newspaper officials said they believe the tape is the first made by Hussein since U.S.-led forces ousted his regime.
There was no way to confirm whether the tired-sounding voice on the tape is that of Hussein, though the accent and phrasing were akin to that of the ousted leader.
"Through this secret means I am talking to you from inside great Iraq and I say to you, the main task for you, Arab and Kurd, Shiite and Sunni, Muslim and Christian, and the whole Iraqi people of all religions, your main task is to kick the enemy out from our country," the speaker said.
The voice on the tape noted that some Iraqis had celebrated Hussein's 66th birthday April 28, even though he was not in power. The speaker referred to Hussein in the third person, a practice common in Arabic.
"It was an Iraqi decision [to celebrate], because they consider Saddam Hussein as a brother or as a father to them. And this is just to express of their free will that nobody forced them to do it or to live in any way against their will. It is their true attitude toward Saddam Hussein," the speaker said.
The speech is interrupted once by coughing and twice by what sounds like someone drinking water, the newspaper reported.
Asked yesterday about the tape, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said: "We don't know if the tape is genuine or not. It's being studied. We don't know if he's alive or not."
Last week, the London-based newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi said it had received a statement from Hussein urging Iraqis to "rise up" against occupation.
To reporters familiar with other documents attributed to Hussein, neither the handwriting nor the signature appeared similar.
But the newspaper said that sources close to Hussein had confirmed that both were genuine.
Hussein was targeted by cruise missiles March 20 in the opening salvo of the war - the strike in which Cheney said he believed Hussein was hit.
As U.S. troops converged on Baghdad, American planes dropped bombs on the al-Mansour neighborhood April 7 after Hussein was reportedly seen there.
Some Iraqis claimed to have seen Hussein in the Azamiyah district two days later - an appearance that was videotaped and broadcast by Abu Dhabi television. Some U.S. officials dispute the authenticity of that tape.
The latest tape fell into the hands of a reporter for the Sydney newspaper who was approached by two men near the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad. The men asked where to find Al-Jazeera or Al-Arabiya.
When the reporter's translator pointed toward the hotel and the security cordon manned by coalition forces, one of the men handed the tape to the translator, saying it was his duty, as an Iraqi, to make sure the tape was made public.
The translator said the men spoke with the distinctive accent of Hussein's Tikrit region.