Hot on the trail of Hussein

Recent US raids in Tikrit and Mosul indicate that the capture of Saddam may be around the corner.

American military forces hunting for Saddam Hussein have raided several suspected hideouts in Mosul in the week since his sons died in a shootout here, as the hunt for the deposed Iraqi leader intensifies in this northern city of 2.3 million people. Searches also took place in Tikrit about 100 miles to the south.

Speaking less than a mile away from where US forces apprehended five to 10 of Hussein's bodyguards, Maj. Stan Murphy says he feels that time is running out for Iraq's former leader.

"I think it's getting very tight, as we take more of his bodyguards and trusted associates," says Major Murphy, the intelligence officer for the 1st Brigade combat team for the 4th Infantry Division.

"His circle is getting smaller by the day, and there are only so many spots he can go. He may try to get away to a more low-key area similar to Mosul or maybe a rural area," adds Murphy.

According to Murphy, the bodyguards are being interrogated, and he is awaiting "actionable intelligence."

Hussein may be in Tikrit, says Murphy, because "it's his home town - his friends and family are here. He has very close-knit ties with this community."

Farther north, US authorities have received reports of sightings in Mosul of Mr. Hussein, as well as his former defense minister, Gen. Sultan Hashim Ahmad and, frequently, his half brother, Sabawi Ibrahim Hasan.

Other intelligence reports indicate that Hussein had met with his sons Uday and Qusay in the city prior to the July 22 raid that left them dead.

"Many people are convinced he's here, in Mosul," says Col. Joseph Anderson, commander of the 101st Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade, the main US occupation force in the city.

Hometown hunt

The US dragnet aimed at capturing or killing Hussein also focused on his hometown of Tikrit.

Early Sunday, US troops stormed three farms in Tikrit, Hussein's hometown, in simultaneous predawn raids after receiving a tip that Saddam's new security chief was staying at one of the farmhouses, according to the Associated Press.

"We missed him by 24 hours," Lt. Col. Steve Russell told the AP.

And in Tikrit on Thursday, US troops captured a group of men that included several of Hussein's bodyguards. The men surrendered without a fight, according to US soldiers.

In recent days and weeks, several factors have led US forces to target Mosul as they act on a growing number of tips from Iraqis concerning Hussein's whereabouts, according to military officials.

"We have no lack of people giving us information - it's constant," Colonel Anderson says.

One major consideration is Hussein's close association with and reliance upon his sons, especially Qusay, who headed Iraq's intelligence and security services. As a pattern, Hussein "never traveled more than two hours away from his sons," Anderson says.

Among the few people Hussein trusted, his sons were likely providing some security for their father, US officials say.

"Now, he has less of an apparatus around him," says Capt. Brian Carter, an intelligence officer with the 101st Airborne Division.

Earlier searching had targeted remote villages along the Syrian border, where officials believed Hussein might seek refuge with tribal leaders in an area where there are fewer Iraqi police and US forces, according to military officials.

Manhunt in Mosul

Mosul, an ethnically diverse city 70 miles from Syria, has long been home to Hussein loyalists including many former high-ranking officers in the Iraqi Army.

Perhaps more important, Mosul and its surrounding areas saw little fighting during the war and have been relatively calm since then - meaning fewer raids and house-to-house searches by US troops.

"It would be logical to be in Mosul, because we don't have as adversarial a relationship with the local population and there are less forced entries," says Capt. Brian Carter.

Other parts of Iraq would pose greater risks for the fugitive dictator, officials say.

For example, the predominantly Shiite south, where the population suffered horrific abuses under the Hussein regime, would be an unlikely refuge.

Hussein is believed to be carrying large sums of money in order to buy safety for himself.

But US officials say they believe the $25 million dollar reward could also override the loyalties of people associated with the former Iraqi leader.

"We're sure that if he isn't in this area right now, he has been recently," says Capt. Mike D'Annunzio, command judge advocate for the 1st Brigade combat team of the 4th Infantry Division.

"This is his base of power," says Captain D'Annunzio, "and where all his cronies live. It's just a matter of catching up with him. It's getting harder for him to hide. The people who were hiding him are showing up in our detention."

Coalition casualties

Following is a table of US, British, and Iraqi casualties in the Iraq war and its aftermath as announced by US, British, and Iraqi authorities or independently confirmed by Reuters correspondents.

The figures in brackets refer to casualties after May 1, when President Bush declared hostilities over.

US AND BRITISH TROOPS KILLED:

COMBAT/ATTACKS

United States 163 [49]

Britain 14 [6]

NONCOMBAT

United States 80 [58]

Britain 29 [4]

IRAQIS KILLED:

MILITARY 2,320#

CIVILIANS Between 6,076 and 7,787*

# - US military estimates relating only to fighting in or near Baghdad. No other figures available.

* - Figure compiled on website www.iraqbodycount.net, run by academics and peace activists, based on incidents reported by at least two media sources.

NOTE: NONCOMBAT is defined as accidents, US or British fire killing or wounding their own troops, and other incidents unrelated to fighting.

- Reuters

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