Saying that "the noose is tightening" around former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and his top aides, US forces raided safehouses in Baghdad and northern Tikrit and said the deposed dictator is unable to mount a resistance because he's too busy "trying to save his own skin."
Soldiers, meanwhile, began yesterday to demolish the safehouse in northern Mosul where Saddam's sons Uday and Qusay were killed in a firefight with US troops.
At least twice in the past week, American soldiers have raided houses where they believed they may have missed Saddam by less than 24 hours -- once in the northern city of Mosul, and once at a farmhouse near Tikrit, Saddam's hometown and power base.
The US military had no comment on a raid in Baghdad's upscale Mansour neighborhood Sunday evening, in which soldiers shot their way into the home of Prince Rabiah Muhammed al-Habib, one of Iraq's most influential tribal leaders.
The prince, who wasn't at home at the time of the raid, told reporters that he believed the Americans were looking for Saddam.
"I found the house was searched in a very rough way. It seems the Americans came thinking Saddam Hussein was inside my house," al-Habib said. He didn't elaborate.
US soldiers shot at several cars and bystanders that approached the mansion during the raid, witnesses said, and one hospital reported at least five Iraqis were killed.
That raid came hours after troops of the 4th Infantry Division moved in on three farms in the Tikrit area in search of Saddam's new security chief, and perhaps the ousted dictator himself.
"We missed him by 24 hours," said Lieutenant Colonel Steve Russell, who led the operation that was witnessed by a reporter.
Hundreds of soldiers, backed by Bradley fighting vehicles, surrounded the farms as Apache attack helicopters hovered above. No shots were fired as about 25 men emerged from the houses peacefully. They were detained briefly and released.
The raid was prompted by Thursday's capture in Tikrit of a group of men believed to include as many as 10 Saddam bodyguards. Soldiers learned from them that Saddam's new security chief -- and possibly the dictator himself -- were staying at one of the farms, Russell said.
"The noose is tightening around these guys," said Colonel James Hickey, a brigade commander. "They're running out of places to hide, and it's becoming difficult for them to move because we're everywhere. Any day now we're going to knock on their door, or kick in their door, and they know it."
General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited 4th Infantry commanders in Tikrit on Sunday and later told reporters in Baghdad that Saddam was too busy "trying to save his own skin" to lead an insurgency against American forces.
"He is so busy surviving he is having no impact on the security situation here," Myers said. "It's a big country, but we'll find him."
With US soldiers standing guard, workers used jackhammers to begin demolition of the villa in northern Mosul where Uday and Qusay Hussein were killed. Chunks of masonry fell to the ground, and the area filled with debris.
Residents passed by asking for souvenirs, but the soldiers told them that was out of the question.
After the firefight on Tuesday, intelligence sources reported Saddam was at a different location in the same city. Elements of the 101st Airborne Division mounted another raid, a military official familiar with the operation told reporters.