- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2003

With the war over and Baghdad increasingly secure, U.S. Central Command is in a better position to solve the world's No. 1 question: Where is Saddam Hussein?

In a war designed, in part, to kill Saddam, President Bush still does not know whether his generals succeeded or whether the dictator will join the ranks of such elusive fugitives as Osama bin Laden.

Saddam showed up on Iraqi TV on at least two occasions during the conflict, leading some intelligence analysts to believe that he survived the first bomb strike that opened the war March 19. On April 7, the U.S.-led forces made another attempt on his life.

Hours later, Saddam and his top aides seemed to vanish. The only known trail is communications "chatter" from underlings suggesting that Saddam is dead.

In the April 7 hit, an Air Force B-1B bomber dropped 8,000 pounds of guided munitions on a building in Baghdad's upscale Mansur neighborhood, a hotbed of Sunni Muslim support for Saddam. The CIA had picked up reliable intelligence that the dictator was inside, meeting with Ba'ath Party members and agents of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, the notorious Mukhabarat.

Some Pentagon officials are intrigued by the subsequent vanishing.

Was it because the Army's 3rd Infantry Division was gobbling up valuable palace real estate on the Tigris River? An intelligence official said the fleeing could have been part of a prearranged exodus. Or, the officials said, "They may have been told Saddam is dead."

There are theories that Saddam fled the country, perhaps through Syria. But Pentagon officials believe the man who created a cult of personality during a harsh 24-year rule would have made a final stand in Baghdad.

The allies bombed scores of sites categorized as "leadership targets" or "targets of opportunity" where Ba'ath and regime figures were thought to be meeting or hiding.

In two such strikes — a March 20 attack on a compound known as Dora Farms in south Baghdad and the April 7 raid on the Mansur neighborhood of west Baghdad — the CIA had reliable information that Saddam and his sons, Uday and Qusai, were there.

There was an early report that Saddam was wounded and seen being carried out of Dora Farms. But a videotaped walk Saddam took through Mansur would discount that eyewitness account.

Saddam twice appeared on Iraqi TV in footage that seemed to have been made after the first-night attack. In one, he mentioned the downing of an Apache helicopter. An Apache had been downed March 24. Later, he was shown walking in the Mansur district. Some analysts believe the smoke in the background indicates the video was made after March 20.

Pentagon officials speculate that Saddam may have felt relatively safe meeting in Mansur because the allies did not, as a rule, bomb residential areas.

With the fighting subsided, the Central Command is in a better position to inspect the Dora Farms and Mansur sites. Officials acknowledge, however, that the odds of finding Saddam and his sons in the debris are doubtful as Saddam loyalists have had plenty of time to sift through the dust and remove any remains.

"We are in the process of securing sites and putting boots on the ground to do searches," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Owens, a spokesman at Central Command's forward headquarters in Doha, Qatar. "I just know it's one of the things we just have to do."

Of numerous leadership bombing locations, Cmdr. Owens said, "Each of those sites will be looked at for remains."

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said at an April 11 briefing that he wanted Baghdad secure before any searches for remains.

"First of all, most of these places, these sites, are not like this press room," he said. "These are big places with lots of acres, and underground bunkers, and the like."

Gen. Richard B. Myers, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, added, "I think our priorities now would not be to be digging in rubble. We have fighting to do in Baghdad."

Gen. Tommy Franks, the allied commander, said on Sunday that the United States owns a sample of DNA from Saddam's family, which could be used to identify his remains.

The source of the sample is not clear; the CIA does not own a sample.

U.S. intelligence agencies have picked up what is called communications "chatter" from midlevel Iraqi officials suggesting that Saddam is dead.

The intelligence official, however, said the chatter could be just speculation or deliberate misinformation.

The CIA has not made an official assessment. "He certainly could be dead. We don't know," the official said.

Last night, a senior White House official said in an Internet chat that he believes Saddam Hussein is dead.

Chief of staff Andrew H. Card Jr., in a new forum called "Ask the White House" at www.whitehouse.gov, told "Casey" from Quincy, Mass. that the Iraqi dictator "is not likely to be in Quincy, Braintree or my hometown of Holbrook. I think he's dead."

Mr. Card, who receives intelligence briefings, said he believed the second attack killed Saddam. A senior U.S. official later told Reuters news agency that, Mr. Card's words notwithstanding, there was still no official conclusion or any further evidence about the fate of the Iraqi dictator.

Central Command, which ran the war to oust Saddam and now heads the transition to rebuilding the country, has issued a "deck of cards" featuring 55 of the most-wanted Iraqi leaders.

The deck is led by Saddam himself as the ace of spades. It also includes his two sons and a host of military commanders, Ba'ath leaders and weapons scientists, such as Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash, the so-called Mrs. Anthrax.

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