US officials are hoping to glean answers to crucial questions from several of the most-wanted Iraqi figures now in custody. Are Saddam Hussein and his sons still alive? If so, where are they? And what has Iraq done with its weapons of mass destruction?
So far, 13 of the 55 faces on the deck of cards have either been nabbed by US Special Forces or have surrendered, and the pace of detentions is accelerating. The problem is, if this were chess rather than poker, most of those apprehended would be pawns.
Still, there is hope that they may help fill in the broader picture on a more important long-term US goal: the war on terror. Officials and experts say these men could help the US prevent Al Qaeda and other terror groups from acquiring WMD by providing answers to some important questions, including where and how the Iraqi regime went shopping, who helped them, and where the front companies are.
"You want to be proactive," says Judith Yaphe, former top Iraq analyst at the CIA during the 1991 Gulf War. "You want to gear this effort toward the future, look ahead so that you're able to preempt these terrorist networks."
US officials know, for example, that Al Qaeda and other groups have tried to secure WMD. They know, too, that Al Qaeda tried to - or perhaps did - set up cooperation on some levels with Iraq.
The Iraqi leader was known to be extremely cautious, not to mention clever. He kept his government compartmented, and people were given information on a need-to-know basis only. But each of these - from Tariq Aziz, the prime minister and most public face of the regime, to Farouq Hijazi, a shady spy - will know pieces of the puzzle.
The detainees are being questioned by teams of CIA, DIA, and military officials. But there is no word on how cooperative or helpful these men are.
"They are being detained by our security personnel," says Navy Lt. Herb Josey, a Centcom spokesman. "But we have no outcome from the results of those investigations from Baghdad."
Following is a partial list of those detained, as well as what they likely know and how they could help US officials with the war on terror and the search for the Iraqi leadership and WMD.
Gen. Hussam Mohammed Amin al-Yasin. The latest to be caught, on April 26, was No. 49 on the list of the 55 most-wanted members of Hussein's regime. He led the Iraqi National Monitoring Directorate, which tracked the country's armaments, and is likely to know a great deal about Iraq's WMD programs.
Tariq Aziz. Deputy prime minister, Mr. Aziz surrendered April 24 and reportedly has told US officials that Hussein survived the first two attempts on his life. But officials say they aren't sure his information is reliable, or that he would have known. Still, "Aziz was an important participant and observer in all kinds of complicated meetings," Dr. Yaphe says. "He likely was listening to where Hussein got his information that helped him so effectively fend off fatal attacks for so long."
Farouq Hijzazi. Mr. Hijzazi was not included in the deck of cards, apparently because he was out of the country. But he is probably one of the most important captures, experts say. Moreover, he likely remained a spy although publicly he became a diplomat.
"He was involved in lots of dirty deeds," says one former intelligence operative who requested anonymity. "If there was a connection to Al Qaeda, he should be able to confirm that, because he was in on it."
Abdul al-Khaleq Abdul- Ghafar. The minister of higher education and scientific research was taken into custody on April 19 by US troops. "He should be able to provide details on Iraq's nuclear program, as to what may have gone on after 1991," Yaphe says. "This is a guy who is easily frightened [in 1980, he was forced to observe the torture of a colleague and from then on cooperated with Hussein], who should talk."
Barzan Ibrahim Hasan al-Tikriti. Hussein's half-brother, No. 52 on the list, was captured by US Special Forces on April 17. He ran Iraq's intelligence service from 1979 to 1983 and was Iraq's ambassador to the UN in Geneva from 1988 to 1997. "Barzan was involved in a lot of Iraq's business dealings," says a US government official. "But he and Saddam had a falling out, so it is not clear how much he knows."
Watban Ibrahim Hasan al-Tikriti. Another of Hussein's half-brothers, he was nabbed by US Special Forces on April 13. Hussein had removed him as interior minister in 1995, but he remained a presidential adviser.
Jamal Mustafa Sultan al-Tikriti. No. 40 on the list, he returned from Syria to surrender on April 2. He was Hussein's only surviving son-in-law, and had at one time served as his personal secretary.
The seven other detainees include: the general who headed military intelligence, the minister of trade, the Air Defense Force commander, a regional commander, a deputy prime minister and finance minister, the Baath Party chairman for East Baghdad, and Hussein's top scientific adviser.