Search for Saddam Goes Into High Gear

Published August 04, 2003

| FoxNews.com

"It's just a matter of time" until American forces bag the Ace of Spades, the U.S. military says.

Saddam Hussein (search) is on the run, and American troops are on a "sprint" to capture the former Iraqi dictator, the "Ace of Spades" in the U.S. military's deck of 55 most-wanted Iraqis (search).

"It's just a matter of time. He can't stay in one place very long," 4th Infantry Division (search) spokeswoman Maj. Josslyn Aberle said at a news briefing Monday.

U.S. forces have conducted a series of ultra-secret operations in the hunt for Saddam since his sons, Uday and Qusay, were killed two weeks ago. Countrywide, over the past 24 hours, the military said it had conducted 17 raids and detained 80 people.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military took 400 volunteers for the new Iraqi army to the northern city of Kirkuk on Monday to begin two months basic training.

The recruits make up about half the first batch due to begin training under U.S. instructors this month. More than 12,000 Iraqi soldiers are scheduled to be ready for service by year's end and 40,000 by the end of 2004.

And, knock on wood: The military says Monday marked the third straight day that no U.S. soldiers have been killed in action.

West of Baghdad, in Khaldiyah, there were also reports that angry residents stormed and ransacked an Iraqi police station Monday after an incident that began with an ambush on a U.S. convoy.

Witnesses said a U.S. soldier was injured in the ambush and carried into the police facility as American forces opened fire against their attackers. The U.S. military confirmed an incident there.

Iraqi police apparently joined U.S. soldiers in fighting the attackers and then withdrew inside the police station. They presumably escaped.

Meanwhile, as they hunted for Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction, American teams recently found dozens of fighter jets from Iraq's air force buried beneath the sands of the deserted Tamous air base, according to U.S. officials.

On the Saddam hunt, the top-secret Special Operations Task Force 20 (search) -- a group of 101st Airborne Division troops and CIA operatives captured four key targets last week. Two of Saddam's "very close associates" were captured on Friday in Tikrit, Saddam's hometown.

Two others, described only as high-profile targets, were caught Saturday during a raid in Baiji, just north of Tikrit, Aberle said.

Senior defense officials said Monday morning that No. 54 of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis has been taken into custody -- Khamis Sirhan al Muhammad, a Baath Party (search) chairman and commander of the Baath militia in the Karbala Governate.

Muhammad was captured in raids over the weekend, along with another on the wider list of 200.

Weekend raids by the 3rd Armored Cavalry in the so-called "Sunni Triangle" (search) west and north of Baghdad netted "24 regime loyalists, including a targeted leader."

U.S. forces are also intensifying their search in Samarra, the ancient capital of the Muslim world that's home to a 1,200-year-old Ziggurat monument.

In the heart of the Sunni triangle, it's thought that ex-Baath party members and former regime figures could be helping support the ex-dictator.

Just two weeks ago, the U.S. military raided a compound there where it thought Saddam may be hiding.

The U.S.-appointed mayor of Samarra, Shakhur Mahmoud, told Fox News that he is sure that a week before that raid, Saddam was "in town."

"Yes he was here," Mahmoud said. "My trusted people told me. But by the time we acted on the information, he was gone."

Locals say Saddam would have been welcomed.

Others say Saddam could be around in an area to the south along the Tigris River that has a sparse but sympathetic population.

"We definitely are getting information and we have gotten information in the past about where Saddam has been hiding out," said Capt. Sandra Chavez of the 4th Infantry Division.

American military commanders told Time magazine they had picked up new intelligence that suggested Saddam was around Mosul, seeking sanctuary with Bedouin loyalists.

"He's out there in the desert," a powerful sheik in the town of Sinjar, 60 miles west of Mosul, told Lt. Col. Henry Arnold. "He's with the Bedouins."

Task Force 20 descended on an airstrip near Mosul last Wednesday to prepare for an assault, but Saddam was not to be found.

"We shoot a lot of dry holes. It's the law of averages," a Pentagon official told Time. "But his number's going to come up."

Military officials estimate that Saddam moves every four hours. The army has distributed composite photos of how he may have changed his appearance.

In a Sunday night raid, 300 soldiers from the 1st Battalion of the 22nd Regiment raided another four sites on the outskirts of Tikrit looking for former regime members.

Soldiers did not find the meeting they were looking for and instead hunted for two guerrilla organizers believed to be in the area, said Lt. Col. Steve Russell, commander of the group. Soldiers detained an associate of one of the meeting organizers and nabbed about 26 total -- but ended up with 11 persons of interest who may actually have ties to the former regime.

"It's like you're drilling for oil, and you're upset because you don't hit a gusher every time. The reality is we've been able to hurt the regime and he (Saddam) is a desperate and losing foe," Russell said.

Soldiers caught one of the suspected guerrilla organizers Monday when the man came to an Army civil affairs office protesting about soldiers trampling over his land.

There was another raid in Fallujah, where the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment took about a dozen suspected Saddam loyalists into custody.

A member of the U.S.-appointed Governing Council said Monday that he expects the council to have a 24-member Cabinet in place within a week.

Adnan Pachachi, one of nine rotating presidents on the council, said the ministers would mostly be "experienced technocrats," suggesting that some acting ministers would be confirmed in their posts.

"We have all the politicians we need in the Governing Council," he said, "so we want technocrats with experience who can show us the way and give us a clear picture of what the priorities are for Iraq."

In other news, The Financial Times reported that the British government is considering backing a new U.N. Security Council resolution on Iraq to give India, Pakistan, Turkey and other states the domestic political cover they need to contribute to a multinational force. This would help ease the military burden of the United States and United Kingdom.

Top government officials said preliminary negotiations over such a resolution could begin at the United Nations within a few weeks.

Fox News' Bret Baier, Greg Kelly, Ian McCaleb and Greg Palkot and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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