Sun, Nov 02, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Saddam's hometown closed off

SECRET BASE US troops and Iraqi police erected a barbed wire fence around the village, which is suspected of giving refuge to the rebels organizing attacks on coalition forces


Iraqis attempt to locate their home on an aerial photograph of their town at the police station in Uja, Iraq, on Friday. US forces have restricted access to the village to just one point, and all adults older than 18 are required to register for identificaton cards.


Facing an increasing tide of attacks, American soldiers on Friday cordoned off the village where Saddam Hussein was born, suspecting this dusty farming community of being a secret base for funding and planning assaults against coalition forces.

"There are ties leading to this village, to the funding and planning of attacks against US soldiers," said Lieutenant-Colonel Steve Russell, a battalion commander with the 4th Infantry Division, which is based in nearby Tikrit.

The operation began before dawn with hundreds of US troops and Iraqi police. They erected a fence of barbed wire, stretched over wooden poles, and laid spirals of razor wire around the village, a cluster of mud-and-brick homes set in orchards of pears and pomegranates about 9.5km south of Tikrit.

Checkpoints were set up at all roads leading into the village of about 3,500 residents, many of them Saddam's clansmen and distant relatives.

It appeared the operation was not aimed at catching Saddam but at identifying those who live here and making sure that outsiders are quickly spotted. All adults were required to register for identity cards that US officials said would allow them "controlled access" in and out of the village.

"This is an effort to protect the majority of the population, the people who want to get on with their lives," Russell said. "What we have seen repeatedly month after month is not necessarily attacks against coalition forces in this village, but there are ties to the planning and organizing of these attacks. That is not fair to the rest of this village."

The intensive hunt for the deposed leader is spearheaded by the top secret Special Operations Task Force 20, and American officials in Iraq have said little about any progress.

The US has offered a US$25 million reward for Saddam's capture. On Oct. 13, Major Troy Smith, executive officer of the 1st Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division, told reporters that Saddam was "at the least" maintaining "a strong influence" in the Tikrit area and may have traveled through the region recently.

The next day, however, the 4th Infantry Division spokeswoman, Major Josslyn Aberle, said the military had no direct evidence that Saddam had been in Tikrit since Baghdad fell to American forces on April 9. Saddam was last seen in public that same day in a Sunni Muslim neighborhood of Baghdad.

Much of the hunt for Saddam appears to be focused in the area around Tikrit, where Saddam and other key followers could find shelter among family and clansmen.

Saddam's sons Uday and Qusay were killed on July 22 in a gunbattle with American forces in Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, about 193km north of Tikrit.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell said he could find no basis for reports that Saddam may be coordinating attacks on Americans in Iraq.

While Saddam may have survived, "We really don't have the evidence to put together a claim that he is pulling all the strings among those remnants in Baghdad and other parts of the country that are causing us difficulty," Powell said on ABC's Nightline.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said it's unclear "what exactly his [Saddam's} role would be, if any. Saddam Hussein is in a survival mode. He is no longer in power, he's been removed from power ... It's just a matter of time before he is brought to justice as well as other remnants of the regime."

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