- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2003

BAGHDAD Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's entourage hid out in the home of a former family bodyguard for much of the U.S.-led air war, fleeing only when a bunker-bursting bomb meant for Saddam struck a block away, neighborhood residents said yesterday.
The accounts heightened speculation that Saddam had survived the April 7 attack.
Neighbors said they believed Saddam had stayed in the house in the well-off western Baghdad block, though none of those interviewed claimed to have seen him.
However, Saddam's top bodyguard, Ali Nassir, and Saddam's cousin Gen. Ali Suleyman Abdullah al-Majid were among those seen coming and going for about 10 days. Mr. Nassir and others guarded the house until all inside fled in the hours after the U.S. bombing on the afternoon of April 7.
"They came out in civilian clothes, in groups, and you could see the fear on their faces," said Osama al-Bidery, next-door neighbor to the high-walled compound. "They left their guns, they left their uniforms, and they left like civilians."
The home's owner, a woman who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Ba'ath Party officials barred her from the house during the time they commandeered it and told her to burn a discarded two-star general's uniform she found when she moved back into the home.
Saddam, fearful of assassination attempts, was known to move from private home to private home on a regular basis. Even before the war began, he declined to spend nights in one of his family palaces.
In the last hours of the U.S. entry into Baghdad, the United States unleashed bunker-bursting bombs that blew a crater 60 feet deep into a street of the al-Mansour neighborhood. The bombs blew at least three houses and 14 persons into barely discernible bits.
U.S. authorities said at the time that it would take digging and forensic work to determine whether Saddam had been inside.
However the London Daily Telegraph reported today that the bomb missed the restaurant and instead hit nearby homes, leaving three children among the dead.
The restaurant, a cheap establishment selling chicken lunches for about $1.50, was open again yesterday though its windows had been blown out and its customers had to eat outside, the newspaper said. The building appeared to have suffered no serious structural damage.
The targeted area was on a block behind the ornate United Arab Emirates Embassy. Just a block away, on the other side of the embassy, was the house where neighbors said Saddam's camp took refuge.
The neighborhood housed intelligence officials and other ranking members of Saddam's regime, said Mr. al-Bidery and neighbor Falhel al-Zaidi.
Residents said Saddam once had given the house in question to one of his favorite bodyguards an operative slain by Saddam's elder son in a notorious case that highlighted Uday Hussein's brutality.
Mr. al-Zaidi and Mr. al-Bidery said the current homeowner worked in intelligence for Uday. But she denied working in any way for Saddam's son, saying she ran a tourism business.
The house, an ornate two-story limestone structure with arches looping on top, at times had been rented by ambassadors of Libya and Algeria, the woman and other neighbors said.
The homeowner said she and her family had fled Baghdad in advance of U.S. bombs. When family members changed their minds and returned, they found the house occupied. Ba'ath Party officials had changed the locks and told the family it could not move back into the house.
People up and down the block spoke of the top military officials they said had moved into the residence, saying the high-ranking squatters barred neighbors from approaching the house.
Residents said they resented the new occupants, fearing they and their frequent use of the trademark white sport utility vehicles of Saddam's regime would draw a U.S. attack, they said.
"Every five [yards] you stepped, there was a truck with guns," Mr. al-Zaidi said.

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