CAMP AS SAYLIYAH, Qatar – Coalition aircraft on Saturday struck the villa of an Iraqi general known as "Chemical Ali" for ordering a poison gas attack that killed thousands of Kurds in 1988. Allied officials said the general — Saddam Hussein's cousin — was believed to be home at the time, but it was not known whether he was killed or wounded.
Two coalition aircraft used laser-guided munitions to attack Gen. Ali Hassan al-Majid's home in Basra, 250 miles southeast of Baghdad and under siege by British troops. Last month, the Iraqi president named al-Majid supreme commander of the southern district of Iraq, which includes Basra, the country's second-largest city.
A U.S. official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that al-Majid was believed to be home when his residence was hit but that it was not known whether he was killed.
A source at field headquarters for the British army also said he believed al-Majid was in the house when the attack occurred, but his fate was unknown, according to British pool reports.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Gene Renuart said officials believe al-Majid had been in the hospital where Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch had been held captive. But on the night military commandos rescued her last week, the general was not there, Renuart said.
"That's not to say that we haven't been tracking him down at some other locations and will continue to do so until we're pretty confident that he's been eliminated," Renuart said at U.S. Central Command in Qatar.
Al-Majid, a member of Saddam's inner circle, has been associated with some of the regime's most brutal episodes.
He boasted of ordering attacks on Iraqi Kurds, including the 1988 gas bomb strike on the village of Halabja, where an estimated 5,000 people died. He has been linked to crackdowns on Shiites in southern Iraq and served as governor of Kuwait during Iraq's seven-month occupation of the emirate in 1990-1991.
British soldiers, deployed in Basra for more than two weeks, have penetrated closer to the city center as fierce battles continued with Iraqi fighters, who also faced residents who oppose Saddam's regime. Britain's 7th Armored Brigade — descended from the famed "Desert Rats" — and the Royal Marines awaited orders to launch their final push.
British forces on Friday stormed into several houses that belonged to members of Sadaam's Baath Party and the Fedayeen militia, according to Associated Press Television News. More than 70 suspects were taken into custody as one woman cried out in English, "What about my husband?"
"There was no shots fired," said Maj. Paul Nanson, the British officer in charge of the operation. "We gave a good warning before we came in. We have been playing warnings to people to stay in their houses. And we only lifted those people who we have got a very good intelligence on."
He said some of the suspects had been identified to the military by their neighbors.
Also Friday, British soldiers pulled down a massive Saddam statue at the gates of Basra.