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U.S. Hunts for Saddam Around Tigris River

U.S. Hunts for Saddam Around Tigris River

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TIKRIT, Iraq (AP) -- American forces focused their hunt for Saddam Hussein around his Tigris River hometown and reported a near-miss Sunday in a raid to capture his new chief of security -- and perhaps the ousted dictator himself. A U.S. soldier was killed south of Baghdad, the latest death in a spike of guerrilla attacks.

Troops of the 4th Infantry Division, acting on tips from informants, hit three farms in the Tikrit region in a pre-dawn attack but learned their specific target -- the security chief -- had left the area the day before.

"We missed him by 24 hours," said Lt. Col. Steve Russell, who led the operation that was witnessed by an Associated Press reporter.

The raid was prompted by Thursday's capture in Tikrit of a group of men believed to include as many as 10 Saddam bodyguards. Soldiers learned from them that Saddam's new security chief -- and possibly the dictator himself -- were staying at one of the farms, Russell said.

Hundreds of soldiers, backed by Bradley fighting vehicles, surrounded the farms as Apache attack helicopters hovered above. No shots were fired as about 25 men emerged from the houses peacefully. They were detained briefly and released later Sunday.

"The noose is tightening around these guys," said Col. James C. Hickey, a brigade commander. "They're running out of places to hide, and it's becoming difficult for them to move because we're everywhere. Any day now we're going to knock on their door, or kick in their door, and they know it."

Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited 4th Infantry commanders in Tikrit on Sunday and later told reporters in Baghdad that Saddam "was too busy trying to save his own skin" to lead the insurgency against American forces.

"He is so busy surviving he is having no impact on the security situation here," Myers said. "It's a big country, but we'll find him."

Myers met with Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq, and planned to leave Monday.

In Tikrit, the army would not name the man they targeted, but said he was believed to have taken over Saddam's security after the June 17 arrest of Abid Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti, Saddam's cousin and presidential secretary.

Mahmud, who was No. 4 on the U.S. list of most-wanted Iraqis, controlled all access to Saddam. He and Qusai Hussein, one of Saddam's son, were believed to be the only two people trusted with knowledge of Saddam's whereabouts.

The U.S. military also had mounted a mission to get Saddam on Tuesday in Mosul after killing Qusai and his brother, Odai, a military source familiar with the operation told the AP. The second raid by elements of the 101st Airborne Division came after intelligence sources reported Saddam as being at a different location in the city.

"We missed him by a matter of hours," the source said on condition of anonymity.

Later Sunday, U.S. forces raided the home of Prince Rabiah Muhammed al-Habib in an upscale west Baghdad neighborhood and killed an undetermined number of people, witnesses said. One hospital reported at least five Iraqis killed.

The prince, one of Iraq's most influential tribal leaders, was not there when the raid occurred but told the AP he believed the Americans were searching for Saddam.

"I found the house was searched in a very rough way. It seems the Americans came thinking Saddam Hussein was inside my house," al-Habib said without elaborating.

The American military said it would have no comment on ongoing operations.

The military said it had no further information on the 2:35 a.m. attack that killed the U.S. soldier. The death brought to 48 the number of U.S. forces killed in combat in Iraq since President Bush declared major combat over on May 1.

So far, 163 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq, 16 more than were killed in the 1991 Gulf War.

There had been hope that the killings of Odai and Qusai might demoralize the resistance. Instead, their deaths appear to have inspired a wave of revenge attacks.

In Karbala, hundreds of angry demonstrators gathered at the Imam al-Hussein Shrine, Iraq's second-holiest site for Shiite Muslims, protesting the alleged shooting by U.S. forces Saturday night of a 51-year-old restaurant worker.

U.S. soldiers, accompanied by local Iraqi police, tried to enter the shrine but were blocked by Haider Hanoon, the alleged victim, and workers inside, witnesses said. Troops and police allegedly withdrew after the shooting, in which nine people were wounded.

"We will take revenge for this. ... We will make life miserable for the Americans," the crowd chanted.

The U.S. military in Baghdad said it had no information on the incident.

An official of the American-led Coalition Provision Authority, meanwhile, said Iraq's Governing Council will meet Monday. The Americans hope the governing body will adopt internal rules for electing a president and establishing a committee to write a new constitution, the U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.

The council is acting much slower than expected, the official said.

The bodies of Saddam's sons remained unclaimed at the American base at Baghdad International Airport. Iraq's American-backed Governing Council said it was discussing with U.S. authorities what to do with the corpses.

According to Islamic tradition, the brothers should have been buried the same day they were killed in a shootout.

"If no one claims the bodies, other measures will be taken. This is what we recommended and I expect that coalition forces will go with this recommendation," council member Samir Shakir Mahmoud said without elaborating.

It was believed the brothers might be buried secretly to prevent their graves from becoming a shrine for supporters.

Instead of receiving a quick burial, the bodies were returned to Baghdad. The Americans released pictures of the pair and allowed reporters to see the corpses.

The images, both before and after U.S. morticians worked to make the bodies look more lifelike, were broadcast on satellite television in an attempt to convince Iraqis the brothers were dead. The reaction among the population was mixed.

In another development, the Arab satellite station Al-Jazeera said U.S. troops arrested one of its journalists in northern Iraq, but American military officials said they knew nothing about the reported detention.

Al-Jazeera reported that U.S. soldiers detained Nawfal al-Shahwani and his driver Saturday in Mosul, the third time a journalist from the Qatar-based station reportedly has been detained by American troops since Saddam's regime was ousted.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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