Baltimore Sun

Hussein remains elusive in raids

This is an undated file photo of  Saddam Hussein with his sons, Odai, left, and Qusai.
BAGHDAD, Iraq - The killing of Odai and Qusai Hussein has led to a surge of tips to occupying authorities, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said yesterday amid reports that an early morning raid by U.S. troops in Tikrit missed seizing Saddam Hussein's security chief, and perhaps the former Iraqi leader himself, by a day.

In an additional raid believed to have been aimed at catching the elusive Hussein, U.S. soldiers searched a tribal leader's home in Baghdad last night but came up empty-handed. Iraqi witnesses said at least two civilians were killed when troops fired on two cars speeding through the neighborhood.

Recent progress, including the raid in Mosul on Tuesday that killed the Hussein brothers, has prompted a spate of tips from informants, said Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Yesterday's raid in Tikrit came after Thursday's capture of at least five of the former Iraqi leader's bodyguards.

Pentagon officials were eager to show signs of progress after violent attacks against U.S. forces continued yesterday. One soldier was killed and another wounded when a rocket-propelled grenade struck their patrol about 20 miles south of Baghdad. The military provided no further details on the attack.

The successful tracking of Hussein's sons, after a tip from what U.S. authorities have said was a "walk-in" informant who may receive a combined reward of $30 million, has buoyed confidence that the critical piece of intelligence on the father is not far behind. There is a $25 million bounty on Hussein.

"There's been a big spike in the numbers coming forward, providing evidence of weapons caches and of where people are," Myers told reporters during a daylong visit to Iraq. "I do talk to the folks that are involved in those operations, and it's my opinion, if he's alive, it's just a matter of time. It's a big country, but we'll find him."

Military strategists are banking on the capture or killing of Hussein to demoralize armed resistance that has increasingly targeted U.S. troops and to wipe away the fear that has kept Iraqis from fully cooperating with the U.S.-led administration of Iraq.

Pervasive fear of the toppled regime has left Iraqis cautious and slow to trust Americans with intelligence, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz said yesterday.

"But they're giving us more and more," he said on NBC's Meet the Press, echoing Myers. "I think what happened last week with the deaths of those two miserable creatures is encouraging more people to come forward. Getting rid of Saddam Hussein will have more effect than any single thing we can do."

The raid early yesterday in Tikrit, by hundreds of soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division, targeted the man believed to have taken over security for Hussein after the June 17 arrest of Abid Hamid Mahmud Tikriti, the No. 4 most-wanted regime leader and Hussein's private secretary. Intelligence had suggested that Hussein might even be in the area, which is his home region and longtime stronghold, U.S. officials said.

Last night, U.S. troops presumably acting on a tip stormed the Baghdad home of Prince Rabia Mohammed Al-Habib, 72, the leader of the Rabia tribe, which includes 140 smaller tribes and has influence throughout Iraq. The tribal leader later said the soldiers believed that Hussein might be hiding in the house.

About 6:30 p.m., heavily armed soldiers sealed off the area around the villa in the Mansour neighborhood, an area that was frequented by Hussein and his family. In April, the United States tried to kill Hussein just across the street, where he was believed to have had a safe house. In that incident, two homes were crushed and more than a dozen civilians were killed by bombs, but Hussein and his sons escaped.

Yesterday, U.S. soldiers apparently were unnerved by two cars that were speeding by in a nearby street and shot into the vehicles, killing the drivers and wounding others in the car, said Jaffa Ameer, 22, who said he saw the shootings. Two other cars parked nearby burst into flames when stray gunfire punctured their gas tanks, witnesses said.

A U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad refused to comment specifically on the incident. "There are ongoing operations in the area; this is the time to go get them," said Staff Sgt. J.J. Johnson, referring to leaders of the former regime.

Some relatives of the prince were irate about the raid, in which windows were broken and shot through, locks ripped off and the contents of drawers spilled onto the floor.

"They blew open our doors, shot our windows. It was an unnecessary attack," said Ahmed Ameer, a nephew. "If they had come and knocked on the door, we could have opened it, and they could have searched everything."

But the prince, who arrived at the home half an hour after the raid, seemed resigned. "Anything can happen because Saddam Hussein is very much wanted by the coalition," he said. "When they got false information, they acted on it."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. Wire services contributed to this article.