- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2003

BAGHDAD The Iraqi National Congress said yesterday that it has received several credible reports of sightings of Saddam Hussein and that it is hunting the ousted president in an area between Baghdad and the Iranian border.
"We are 12 to 24 hours behind him, but we are getting closer," said Zab Sethna, the chief spokesman for the group, which is expected to be a major player in Iraq's interim government. "We are convinced he is alive and on the run."
The group also announced the arrest yesterday of senior Ba'ath Party official Mohamad Hamza Zubeidi, the "queen of spades" on the U.S. military's most-wanted list and the latest in a string of regime officials to be seized by the INC and its Free Iraqi Fighters militia.
Mr. Sethna said the information about Saddam had come from several informants who said they had sighted the deposed president. He said the number of sightings and the consistency of the information led the INC to consider the evidence credible.
INC leader Ahmed Chalabi told British Broadcasting Corp. radio in an earlier interview that Saddam was believed to be traveling with at least one of his two sons, Uday and Qusai.
"We cannot locate Saddam so that we have a coincidence of time and position simultaneously to locate him. But we are aware of his movements, and we are aware of the areas that he has been to," Mr. Chalabi said.
Mr. Sethna said the hunt was focused in an area of northeastern Iraq with no U.S. troop presence. He said the area extended from the outskirts of Baghdad almost to the Iranian border.
The capture of Saddam would be a huge coup for the INC, whose leaders took up residence late last week in the remains of a posh Baghdad private club known as the Hunting Club.
The INC announced on Sunday that Saddam's son-in-law, Jamal Mustafa Abdallah, and a bodyguard had surrendered to the group after returning from neighboring Syria.
Yesterday, the organization said its militiamen, in a joint operation with U.S. troops, had arrested Mr. Zubeidi, a former member of the Revolutionary Command Council, the decision-making body of Saddam's regime.
The capture of Mr. Zubeidi brought to eight the number of former Iraqi officials arrested since April 11, when the United States issued a deck of 55 playing cards with the names and faces of 55 top Ba'ath officials whom it hoped to capture or kill.
Mr. Zubeidi, who was seized in the town of Hilla about 50 miles south of Baghdad, was responsible for the ruthless crushing of an uprising by Shi'ite Muslims in southern Iraq after the 1991 Gulf war.
"We acted on a tip-off and surrounded his house. No shots were fired," Mr. Sethna said. He added that Mr. Zubeidi had been handed over to U.S. Army custody, as had the son-in-law and the bodyguard.
"We persuaded him that facing arrest was a better option than being on the run for the rest of his life," Mr. Sethna said.
Saddam's legacy, meanwhile, still is being uncovered.
Reporters yesterday visited an unmarked cemetery on the western outskirts of Baghdad where many of the roughly 1,000 graves were said to hold the remains of political prisoners who had been executed at the nearby Abu Ghraib jail, Saddam's main political prison.
At a grave marked simply "875," three men had just dug up the remains of what they believed was their brother Salah Hassan, who disappeared three years ago. One of the three brothers collapsed, wailing face-down on the freshly dug soil before they carted away the remains in a makeshift coffin.
A gravedigger said it had been his job to bury prisoners who either had been shot or hanged, depending on whether they were soldiers or civilians. He said the bodies usually arrived in batches of four, eight or 12. The prisoners apparently had been killed to make room for the continuing flow of the newly detained.
"The dead were all youths" ranging in age from 15 to 30, the gravedigger told one reporter.
Since the fighting ended, Iraqis around the country were searching anxiously for relatives who had gone missing or were known to have been arrested and disappeared into Iraq's labyrinthine political underworld.
On several occasions, Iraqis thought they heard voices coming from grates in bridges and buildings, prompting frantic efforts to remove the grates or dig through the rubble of bombed buildings. Nothing has been found at any of the sites.



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