A top US official signalled Washington believes former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein may be alive as US forces launched an operation to crack down on armed resistance blamed on die-hard supporters of the toppled Iraqi leader.
"I'm assuming he's still alive, and we will get our hands on him, dead or alive," Paul Bremer, who heads the US-led administration in Iraq, told CNN on Sunday.
Asked why it was so hard to find Saddam, Bremer said: "[Iraq is] a big place. ... He had 30 years to build himself safe houses, palaces, tunnels, we don't know what."
US forces, who declared Saddam's government ousted from power on April 9, attempted during the Iraq war to kill him in bombing raids based on intelligence but have been unable to verify whether they were successful.
American troops backed by warplanes and armored vehicles launched "Operation Sidewinder" on Sunday to eliminate armed resistance in areas north of Baghdad where Saddam once enjoyed wide support.
Bremer said US-led forces would suffer further casualties until Saddam loyalists were killed or captured. But US army commander Tommy Franks, who led the swift defeat of Iraq's army, said recent attacks on US troops did not "spoil the victory."
US forces, who have come under fire almost daily in recent weeks in mainly Sunni Muslim central Iraq, detained more than 60 people and seized weapons and military documents as part of the crackdown.
"No coalition forces casualties were reported in the raids. Sidewinder is ... ongoing," US Central Command said in a statement on the mission stretching from the Iranian border to the east to towns north of the capital.
Soldiers also imposed tighter measures around military posts, US-led administration offices and ministry buildings in Baghdad, witnesses said. They also stepped up search operations for weapons and wanted Saddam loyalists.
In the latest of a series of hit-and-run attacks, an Iraqi civilian was killed and two US military police were wounded in Baghdad when an explosion targeted a US convoy.
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