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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- With the site of an American bombing raid in Iraqi hands Tuesday, coalition forces said it might take some time to determine whether Saddam Hussein was killed in the attack on a restaurant where he was believed to be meeting with his sons.
A U.S. warplane dropped four bunker-buster bombs and blasted a smoking crater 60 feet deep at the restaurant on Monday afternoon.
At least three houses were destroyed and 20 others damaged, some badly, in the attempt to kill Saddam.
"At this point in time, I'm not aware of anyone from coalition forces that have walked the site," said Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks at U.S. Central Command in Doha, Qatar.
"When that's possible, we'll have more information about what exactly happened there," Brooks said at a news briefing Tuesday.
"Until then, we can only go with things we can gain information on. And we believe the strike was effective in hitting the target, creating the desired effect, but we don't know all the circumstances of what happened to those who were contained inside."
Brooks said it will take some time and perhaps detailed forensic work to establish who was killed.
"There's lots of digging and DNA tests involved," said a U.S. official familiar with the latest military intelligence, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The airstrike in the well-to-do al-Mansour section of western Baghdad broke windows and doors up to 300 yards away, ripped orange trees out by the roots, hurled steel beams 100 yards and left a heap of broken concrete, mangled iron rods and shredded furniture and clothes.
Iraqi rescue workers using a bulldozer to search the rubble said that three bodies had been recovered -- those of a small boy, a young woman and an elderly man -- and that the death toll could be as high as 14. The woman's head had been severed from her torso.
"I don't know whether he survived," President Bush said in Northern Ireland, where he was meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. "The only thing I know is he's losing power."
Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, speaking to reporters Tuesday, made no mention of Saddam's fate, and rejected any suggestion that Iraq would surrender to the American forces drawing a noose around the regime.
"They will be burnt. We are going to tackle them," he said.
Despite suspicions at the Pentagon that Saddam may have been killed, there were no signs of any unusual security measures at the site, and a reporter had no problem examining it, watching the rescue operation or speaking to neighbors for about 90 minutes Tuesday.
The attack was carried out by a single B-1B bomber, which dropped four precision-guided, 2,000-pound, bunker-penetrating bombs on a restaurant after U.S. intelligence was tipped that the Iraqi president, sons Odai and Qusai and other top leaders might be meeting there, officials said.
The U.S. official said the Pentagon was confident that Saddam and his sons were in the building before it was bombed. "Our intelligence was solid," the official said. He did not elaborate on the source of the intelligence.
He said Saddam was known to frequent the restaurant, apparently because he thought coalition forces would not target him so close to a civilian center.
Those close to Saddam have said the Iraqi leader is so obsessed with security that very few people would know about his movements.
He maintains dozens of residences and uses doubles to keep people guessing.
An exiled dissident told The Associated Press that only two people are kept posted about Saddam's whereabouts -- Qusai, who commands the Republican Guard and heads the president's security, and his private secretary, Abed Hameed Hmoud, a member of Saddam's Tikriti clan. Even Odai is thought to be out of the loop because he is considered too reckless.
The strike came on a day when U.S. forces also occupied two of Saddam's palaces southwest of the target zone and knocked down a statue of the Iraqi leader as they tried to wrest control of Baghdad from his regime.
Seif Hatef, 21, said some of his friends were among the victims of the attack on the three buildings. "Such attacks will make Iraqis more determined to resist. Iraq will remain and this war will never finish," he said.
Workers at a nearby mall swept the glass and other debris from the sidewalk.
"When this war will end? It depends on that scum Bush," said Amer Hamad Abdullah al-Jabouri, who works at the complex.
Coalition strikes have aimed at top Iraqi leaders from the very start of the war.
On March 19, the opening night of the war, President Bush authorized a strike on a suburban Baghdad compound where Saddam and his sons were thought to be staying. But U.S. intelligence officials suspect he survived.
Earlier Monday, U.S. and British officials said they believed Saddam's top commander in southern Iraq, his first cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, had been killed in a U.S. airstrike at a house in Basra. Al-Majid, considered one of the most brutal and loyal members of Saddam's inner circle, was known as "Chemical Ali" for his role a 1988 poison gas attack that killed tens of thousands of Iraqi Kurds.
A video clip of the U.S. attack on the Basra house was shown at the Pentagon on Monday.
"We believe that the reign of terror of Chemical Ali has come to an end. To Iraqis who have suffered at his hand, particularly in the last few weeks in that southern part of the country, he will never again terrorize you or your families," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)