Strongly persistent reports are coming out of Iraq today that Saddam Hussein may have escaped or is otherwise out of prison. While US authorities are denying the reports and calling them 'irresponsible rumors', numerous other sources seem to bear them out. Astounded journalists working in the green zone report seeing a widely smiling and waving person who exactly resembled Hussein, disembarking from a US military Bradley Fighting vehicle at the Iraqi presidential Palace this morning - the former Hussein headquarters. They reported him as looking trim and fit, although pale after his long prison confinement. He seemed in an extraordinarily exuberant mood. This individual was reportedly dressed in a sharply pressed former Iraqi Army uniform complete with a jaunty beret and rows of medals and ribbons. He was accompanied by several similarly uniformed but more serious faced aides. Other reports state that the current Iraqi government installed by US forces seem to be in a mass exodus from the country with their families and all the loot they can carry. The atmosphere seems one of unorganized panic. Prime Minister Jawad al-Maliki was identified in a convoy of 15 trucks and other vehicles crossing the border into Syria later this morning. Members of the Iraqi National Assembly departed en mass from Baghdad airport in several chartered jets, apparently headed for Paris along with their families and many supporters. Former Ba'ath Party members, outlawed by the current provisional government are appearing on the streets in droves, many carrying weapons and all seemingly in a celebratory mood. There are also reports that the former Iraqi Army has materialized, complete with flags, banners, vehicles and dressed in their distinctive green mufti uniforms in lieu of the camouflage uniforms provided by the US backed military. These troops are now patrolling throughout Baghdad. The city is reportedly very quiet. Unconfirmed reports say that Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr is under arrest with many of his followers, and he himself may even have been hanged. The US military itself appears to have ceased all patrols and pulled back into defensive enclaves in a 'wait and see' attitude. There is no official word as yet from US authorities but an apparently high ranking individual dressed in the uniform of a former Iraqi Army general seemed quite willing to speak with reporters. When questioned he said, ''Yes. Our President of Iraq has returned. He will re-establish order throughout the country. He was released by the US government and reinstalled to his former position in order to pacify and bring peace to our country. That mission has now begun.'' While authorities in the US would not answer questions on the matter, former Secretary of State Colin Powell was willing to speak with reporters unofficially back in Washington. Colin said he could certainly understand and agree with a decision to bring Hussein back into a leadership role. ''Think about it.'' He said. ''Saddam Hussein was the only man in history who could get the Iraqis to live peaceably together and cooperate for the good of the country. And yes, he was a despicable dictator and a complete despot, but he kept the electricity flowing and the water running and the garbage picked up. He brought education and medical care to the people of Iraq, and everyone was fed and sheltered.'' ''Iraq under the rule of the Bush Administration,'' he went on to say, ''has had none of these things. In fact, under Bush the country has been going down a rat hole and getting worse every day. The whole Mideast region is now in grave danger of being infected. If you can believe the numbers coming out of that country, Iraq under Bush has seen many times the deaths than ever even imagined under Saddam. That's one of the reasons I left this administration.'' ''When you really stop to think about it,'' said Powell, ''I don't see that our government has any choice. If we keep on like we've been going the whole country will be bombed into rubble in another year or two and the few and only people left will all be fanatically radical insurgents.'' ''I think our government has finally made one wise decision.'' Powell went on. ''It will be the first and only one they've made since Bush took office. As I said, I don't think they really had any choice, but I also don't think they will admit to it until after the election. They don't dare to. Afterwards they will come forward to say this is what they always planned since before the invasion. That is how Karl Rove will spin things.'' Related reports indicate that throughout Iraq the Al Qaeda components of the Iraqi insurgency are bitterly fighting amongst themselves for the few available means to leave the country. Unconfirmed reports state that over 50% of them already have died and the rest or fleeing in great panic any way they can.