- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2003

TIKRIT, Iraq — American forces focused their hunt for Saddam Hussein around his Tigris River hometown, and reported they nearly caught up with him yesterday in a raid to capture his new chief of security.

A U.S. soldier, meanwhile, 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 that 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.

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, Col. 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 yesterday.

“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.”

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.

The U.S. military also had mounted a mission to get Saddam on Tuesday in Mosul after killing his sons Uday and Qusai, a military source familiar with the operation said. 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 yesterday, 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,” Mr. al-Habib said without elaborating.

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

Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited 4th Infantry commanders in Tikrit yesterday 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,” Gen. Myers said. “It’s a big country, but we’ll find him.”

The military said it had no further information on a pre-dawn attack that killed a U.S. soldier. There had been hope that the killings of Uday and Qusai might demoralize the resistance, but the attacks have if anything intensified.

In Karbala, hundreds of angry demonstrators gathered at the Imam al-Hussein Shrine, Iraq’s second-holiest site for Shi’ite Muslims, protesting reports that U.S. forces a shot a 51-year-old restaurant worker on Saturday night.

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

“We will take revenge for this. … We will make life miserable for the Americans,” someone in the crowd said.

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 today. 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 the condition of anonymity.

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

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