Baghdad, Iraq U.S. forces in Iraq have received numerous tips about possible hiding places for Saddam Hussein since the death of his two sons last week, helping to intensify the hunt for the former Iraqi leader, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq said Wednesday.
"What we've seen over the past week is an increase in the level of cooperation with coalition forces," the commander, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, said in an interview Wednesday. "We have a tremendous amount of human intelligence that is coming in."
Sanchez's field commanders have pursued many of the tips during a nationwide sweep for members of Saddam's inner circle and their associates, including bodyguards and aides, that began late last week.
Sanchez refused to provide details about the operation, dubbed Victory Bounty, which has not been publicly announced, other than to say it was "going very well." In a 24-hour period ending Tuesday afternoon, soldiers conducted 58 raids across the country, detaining 176 people, military officers said. Among those captured was Adnan Abdullah Abid Musslit, one of Saddam's most trusted bodyguards.
Unlike previous sweeps for wanted Iraqis, which have concentrated largely on people deemed to be "high-value targets," Victory Bounty also targets mid-level Baath Party operatives, bodyguards and aides who could provide valuable intelligence about the whereabouts of Saddam and other former senior leaders.
The general predicted his forces would find Saddam, but he downplayed predictions from ground commanders and officials in Washington that soldiers were closing in on the former Iraqi leader and that his capture or death was imminent. Another senior military officer here also said claims that soldiers had missed Saddam by hours -- voiced by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and the infantry commander whose unit captured Musslit -- were inaccurate.
"That kind of qualitative assessment on where we stand is counterproductive," Sanchez said.