In a subtle shift in position, the White House on Friday played down the importance of capturing or killing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein for the US-led coalition to claim victory in the ongoing Iraq war.
"The purpose of the mission is to disarm the regime and change the leadership, and that includes the top layers of the leadership," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said at a news briefing, responding to a question whether the war can be can be considered a success if Saddam is not either captured or killed.
"So clearly, the future, the fate of Saddam Hussein, is a factor. But as I indicated, whether he is or is not alive or dead, the mission is moving forward and the regime's days are numbered," the spokesman added.
The shift in US position came as more evidence indicates that President Saddam, the prime target of the US forces' "decapitation" operation in the first day of the war, may have survived the US attempt on his life.
President Saddam delivered a 10-minute speech on television on Friday, in which he referred to the downing of a US military's Apache attack helicopters by Iraqi farmers on March 24.
The Iraqi leader on Friday also made a defiant appearance in the streets of Baghdad, enthusiastically greeted by a crowd of Iraqi citizens.
Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, US President George W. Bush vowed that "dead or live," the United States would pursue al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden relentlessly.
But the administration later backed down from that claim as the hunt of the prime suspect of the Sept. 11 attacks became increasingly elusive. The fate of Bin Laden remains unknown until today.
(Xinhua News Agency April 5, 2003)