With Hezbollah (Lebanon), Hamas (Palestine), and both Iran and N Korea clearly on the target list now, the Americans are going all out to kill Saddam...and to prove it:
DNA tests after missiles strike 'Saddam convoy'
Human remains removed after US Hellfire missiles target source of dictator's satellite phone call
Jason Burke in Baghdad
Sunday June 22, 2003
American specialists were carrying out DNA tests last night on human remains believed by US military sources to be those of Saddam Hussein and one of his sons, The Observer can reveal.
The remains were retrieved from a convoy of vehicles struck last week by US forces following 'firm' information that the former Iraqi leader and members of his family were travelling in the Western Desert near Syria.
Military sources told The Observer that the strikes, involving an undisclosed number of Hellfire missiles, were launched against the convoy last Wednesday after the interception of a satellite telephone conversation involving either Saddam or his sons.
The operation, which has not yet been disclosed by the Pentagon, involved the United States air force and ground troops of the Third Armoured Cavalry Regiment based around Ramadi, a major town 70 miles west of Baghdad.
Despite previously unfounded US claims that Saddam had been killed during the bombing of Baghdad before the invasion by America and Britain, the sources indicated that they were cautiously optimistic that they had finally killed the target they described as 'the top man'.
Asked about rumours circulating in senior military circles about the incident, one US officer with knowledge of the raid on the convoy said: 'That is unreleasable information. The Pentagon has to release that information.'
The Pentagon last night refused to comment on what it called 'operational matters'. However, other military sources indicated they were optimistic the tests would show that Saddam and at least one of his two sons, Uday and Qusay, were among the dead, although they stressed that a conclusive identification of the men killed in the attack had not yet been made.
The convoy, composed of several four-wheel-drive luxury vehicles, was attacked after the telephone call was intercepted. An air strike was then organised.
The sources confirmed that Uday Hussein, the deposed dictator's eldest son, was thought to have been travelling with his father in the convoy. The convoy is believed to have been heading for the Syrian border and was intercepted near the frontier town of Qaim. Several such convoys heading for the border were destroyed during the conflict in March and April.
Another US military source confirmed that there was 'an incident in the Western Desert' and said that information about it was 'unreleasable pending verification'. Other sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, revealed that they were awaiting confirmation that the remains were those of Saddam and Uday following full DNA tests. It was not known when the tests would be completed, but the sources indicated it was 'imminent'.
The attack on the convoy came two days after US authorities captured Abid Hamad Mahmud, one of Saddam's top aides. The Washington Post reported yesterday that Mahmud, who was seized by American Special Forces near Saddam's home town of Tikrit, had provided information about Saddam's whereabouts.
The paper reported that Mahmud had told US authorities that the deposed Iraqi leader and his two sons survived the war and that the sons, along with the aide, escaped to Syria, only to be forced to return to Iraq.
The officials said the aide had described a plan by Hussein and his sons to split up to increase their chances of survival as US forces closed in on Baghdad in April. Mahmud was captured last Monday in a raid near the Iraqi city of Tikrit that also netted a number of other, less senior Saddam Hussein loyalists, officials said. But neither the deposed Iraqi President nor his sons were with Mahmud.
'We're not yet sure he's telling the truth,' one senior defence official said of Mahmud's information. 'He could simply be reciting a set of talking points.'
However, the report, from the most significant member of Saddam's government caught so far, contributed to an increasing sense among US authorities last week that the net was closing on the ex-Iraqi leader, who was believed to be hiding somewhere north of Baghdad.
Accounts differed yesterday over the extent to which Mahmud had helped pinpoint the locations of Saddam and his sons. NBC News, which first reported that Mahmud was talking, said some of his information has included places where Saddam or the sons may be found.
A Special Operations group known as Task Force 20, made up of army and navy counter-terrorist teams, had been spearheading the long hunt for Saddam and family members.
US officials last night confirmed reports that Mahmud had told his interrogators that he, Saddam and the sons at one point fled to Syria and then re-entered Iraq. Syria has angrily denied US charges it harboured Saddam or members of his family or that it had any knowledge that top former Iraqi leaders might have taken refuge across its border during or since the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam.
Officials told Reuters that the 'information, or perhaps disinformation,' from Mahmud had intensified the hunt for Saddam Hussein and the sons by US Special Operations troops and paramilitary intelligence agents in Iraq.
White House officials said on Friday it was unclear if the former Iraqi leader was alive or dead. 'We know that this guy (Mahmud) was his (Saddam's) shadow at one time. But who knows what's true and what's not here,' one US official said last night.
Mahmud was regarded by Washington as the most wanted Iraqi figure after Saddam and his sons.
The presidential secretary was the ace of diamonds in the US 'deck of cards' of 55 most-wanted Iraqis and the highest-placed of them caught so far.
US forces have now captured at least 32 of the 55 on the list.