Does Saddam Hussein have nine lives?

That’s the question U.S. and British intelligence sources are asking today after concluding the Iraqi dictator survived a second B-1 air strike using four 2,000-pound “bunker-buster” bombs on a building where he was believed to be meeting with his sons Uday and Qusay.

U.S. and British intelligence sources were both reporting late last night that Hussein survived the latest attack on a building in Baghdad.

Intelligence sources think Saddam wasn’t in blast zone (MSNBC)

The building was in the upmarket district of Mansur, an area still under control of the regime. The Pentagon said it had three credible sources of “human intelligence” indicating Hussein was in the building 12 minutes before the attack.

The intelligence sources described as a “preliminary assessment” their view that Hussein had not been killed in Monday’s attack. Officially, the Pentagon is still saying it will be days before it is known for certain who had died in the devastating blasts that left 20-foot craters in its wake.

At least 40 senior officials were understood to be meeting Saddam and his sons in a bunker at the back of the building, connected to a restaurant. Iraqi officials said they found two bodies in the rubble and were searching for another 14 they thought were still buried, but said no members of the leadership had been killed.

A Pentagon official said determining Saddam’s fate might rest on DNA tests – based on samples the U.S. is rumored to have obtained from his relatives or perhaps even the Iraqi leader himself.

The U.S. sought to play down the matter. “I don’t think it matters that much. I’m not losing sleep trying to figure out if he was in there,” said Defense Department spokeswoman Torie Clarke.

“I don’t know whether he survived,” President Bush said in Belfast. “The only thing I know is he’s losing power.”

MI6, the British spy agency, told the CIA it believes Hussein left the building just before the bombs hit. The CIA was still reportedly clinging to hope that Hussein was killed. Hussein escaped a similar bomb attack on the opening night of the war March 19.

“We think he [Saddam] left the same way he arrived in the area, either by a tunnel system or by car, we’re not sure,” one British Intelligence source told the London Times.

Saddam issued no statement and made no appearances yesterday.

The complex included al-Saa restaurant and apartments. Intelligence chiefs had suspected the Iraqi leadership of using al-Saa, or a bunker underneath it, as a command center. At least 14 people were killed in the strike, including nine members of a family and two children, according to residents.

Brigadier-General Vincent Brooks, the U.S. Central Command spokesman, said: “As to who was inside and what their conditions are, it will take time to determine. We may never be able to determine who was present.”

Whether or not Saddam survived, Bush insisted the Iraqi president had lost his grip on Iraq. “I can’t tell you if all 10 fingers are off the throat, but finger by finger it’s coming off and the people are beginning to realize that,” he said.

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