TIKRIT, Iraq – Saddam Hussein has been forced to move at least three times a day because of mounting raids by U.S. forces on sites where soldiers have found evidence that someone important — perhaps the ousted Iraqi leader himself — had been hiding, a U.S. general said Thursday.
As the raids eat away at Saddam's support network, it has become increasingly difficult for guerrilla leaders to find foot soldiers willing to attack U.S. forces — driving the amount paid for a successful attack as high as $5,000 from $1,000, said Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno (search), commander of the 4th Infantry Division, citing Army intelligence.
"He is clearly moving three or four times every single day," Odierno told a news conference at his headquarters in one of Saddam's former palaces. "From some of the raids we've done there are indications that somebody has been moving through there — somebody extremely important."
Saddam is likely being protected by a network of tribal and family supporters who are helping him move around, Odierno said.
The manhunt for the ousted Iraqi president is now focusing on a certain kind of terrain and building — in both rural and urban areas — that Saddam can exploit for security purposes, Odierno added, declining to elaborate further.
The top allied commander also said the U.S. military, in a change in strategy, has decided to limit the scope of its raids in Iraq after receiving warnings from Iraqi leaders that the large military sweeps were alienating the public.
Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez (search), the chief commander of allied forces in Iraq, said in an interview in Thursday editions of The New York Times that the military had virtually exhausted the gains from the massive raid approach.
"It was a fact that I started to get multiple indicators that maybe our iron-fisted approach to the conduct of ops was beginning to alienate Iraqis," Sanchez said, referring to military operations.
American commanders said they decided to revise their approach after concluding that the overall number of attacks against U.S. forces had subsided and that Iraqis were providing more intelligence, a development U.S. officers say will enable them to take more of a "precision approach" in planning their operations to capture or kill Saddam and former ranking officials from his government.
In one of the raids, soldiers from the 22nd Infantry's first battalion believe they came within 24 hours of catching Saddam's new security chief — and possibly the dictator himself — at a farm in eastern Tikrit on July 27.
In the past two weeks, soldiers in Tikrit have captured Saddam's Tikrit security chief, three Iraqi generals, several Fedayeen militia (search) organizers and one of Saddam's most trusted bodyguards, who is believed to have knowledge of the dictator's hideouts.
"I don't know if we're getting closer or not," Odierno said. "But there are signs that we are taking down a lot of people who were close to him."
All raids, even those not targeting Saddam, crank up the pressure on the former dictator — making his life in hiding more difficult, the general said.
"He must move often because his support structure has been affected," he said.
Since the death of his sons Uday and Qusay last month, each raid triggers a new flurry of tips that fuel new operations, said Lt. Col. Steve Russell, commander of the 22nd Infantry Regiment's 1st Battalion, which has conducted the Tikrit raids.
"We are eroding all of the support of the former regime and as we continue to do so, it just collapses," Russell said, after completing a series of pre-dawn raids on Thursday that netted four suspected Fedayeen organizers. "Each raid seems to feed on itself now.
The success of the raids has also made it more difficult for guerrilla leaders to mount attacks on U.S. troops, Odierno said. Guerrilla organizers have been forced to increase the amount they pay for attacks on coalition forces to $1,000 from $250. Militia paymasters will now give $5,000, up from $1,000, if an attack kills a U.S. soldier, Odierno said.
"The pay has significantly gone up, which is a good thing because it shows they're starting to have trouble recruiting people," he said.
Each day, the 4th Infantry Division receives four or five reports that Saddam is hiding in cities ranging from Kirkuk to Baqouba to Tikrit, and every tip is investigated, Odierno said.
If Saddam was found, the goal would be to capture him alive, the general said, but added Saddam's bodyguards would probably put up a fierce firefight.
"Would we like to take him alive if we catch him? Absolutely. It would be helpful to put him in front of the Iraqi people and let them see that we have captured him," he said.