Americans are mounting a "very aggressive effort" to follow up on information from a captured top aide to Saddam Hussein that the former Iraqi president is alive, said Sen. Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
On Friday, CBS News correspondent David Martin reported that Saddam's top aide, captured Monday, has told U.S. interrogators that the deposed leader and his two sons survived the war and were one the run in Iraq, separately, to try to up the odds that at least one would survive.
The claim, attributed to Abid Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti, could not be verified. The White House refused comment.
The New York Times and Washington Post said in their Saturday editions that Mahmud has told interrogators that he himself fled to Syria with the sons for a time, before they all returned to Iraq when expelled by Syrian authorities.
Sen. Roberts, R-Kan., confirmed on Saturday that Mahmud had told U.S. interrogators, "There is every likelihood that Saddam is alive."
"We have now mounted a very aggressive effort to follow up on what he has told, basically, his captors," Roberts said at a news conference in Topeka, Kan. "If he is alive - and there's still a lot of speculation - I think he will be found," he added.
Roberts said reports that Saddam is alive give his supporters "credibility in their own minds" and could be fueling anti-American attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq.
"That's why they're staging this, basically, guerrilla war against our forces, and we're suffering casualties," Roberts said.U.S. soldiers, acting on a tip, seized code equipment and piles of top secret Iraqi intelligence documents in a raid Saturday on an abandoned community center. The find, including references to a nuclear program, is being sent to senior intelligence analysts to look for information on Iraq's banned weapons programs. Capt. Ryan McWilliams, an intelligence officer with the Army's 1st Armored Division, who examined the documents, said there were "potentially some pretty strong documents regarding the intelligence service."The Iraqi intelligence haul came on the sixth day of a nationwide sweep to seize weapons and insurgents. So far, the military has conducted 90 raids and netted 540 suspects, a coalition spokesman said. No figure was given on how many had been released.
Officials said the pace of Operation Desert Scorpion raids was slackening. Still, the community hall seizure was one of six raids early Saturday by the 1st Armored Division, which also detained 22 people. The 4th Infantry Division in Kirkuk, in the north, and Taji, in the south, also conducted three raids Saturday and arrested three people.
CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Palmer in Baghdad says, as the U.S. military winds up this week of intensive raids, commanders are wondering whether the more than hundreds of arrests that were made will mean a decrease in attacks on American soldiers, or whether the resistance fighters left will reorganize with fresh resolve.In his weekly radio address Saturday, President Bush defended initial administration claims about the existence of the weapons but did not promise they will be found, as he had on other occasions until recently. The president said documents and suspected weapons sites were looted and burned "in the regime's final days." He added, "We are determined to discover the true extent of Saddam Hussein's weapons programs, no matter how long it takes." Mr. Bush blamed pockets of Saddam loyalists, "along with their terrorist allies," for deadly attacks on U.S. forces.The New York Times reports in its Sunday editions that United States military commanders say foreign fighters are being actively recruited by loyalists to Saddam Hussein to join the resistance against American forces in Iraq, "posing a new challenge to efforts to stabilize the country." The Times reports military officials say American troops in Iraq have had to contend with Syrians, Saudis, Yemenis, Algerians, Lebanese and even Chechens.To help maintain security in postwar Iraq, U.S. officials will soon announce the creation of a new Iraqi army that will be open to soldiers of the former regime, the coalition spokesman said. After Saddam's ouster, the entire Iraqi military was dismissed. Iraqi police officials say former soldiers may be behind some attacks on U.S. forces, and disgruntled ex-officers have been staging demonstrations demanding their salaries.U.N. atomic experts have tracked down tons of the uranium feared looted from Iraq's largest nuclear research facility, diplomats say - and it appeared much of it was on or near the site.An estimated 2,000 Iraqi Shiites staged a demonstration outside the gate of the U.S. political and military headquarters in Iraq, located in Saddam's former presidential compound. Three representatives of the protesters were allowed into the compound to present a list of demands, including the speedy creation of a representative Iraqi government and the release of war prisoners.A previously unknown Iraqi group is threatening to launch more attacks on U.S. soldiers until they're forced to leave. The threat comes in a videotape broadcast by a Lebanese satellite television network. A group calling itself the National Iraqi Commandos Front is vowing to avenge Iraqis killed by allied forces.Iraqi assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars have been found in European and Middle Eastern banks in a global search for Saddam's riches, but little if anything has his name on it. Lebanon, Britain and Switzerland have each found about half a billion dollars in Iraqi assets, but it's not clear to whom the money belongs.
After trying to break through the door of the abandoned community center with a sledgehammer, the American troops were surprised when a squatter opened the lock from the inside and welcomed them in.
Upstairs above the hall, the troops found two large rooms stacked with cryptograph machines, secure transmission devices and binders of documents, with more papers strewn on the floor.
Soldiers examining the papers by flashlight with an Arabic interpreter found many of them marked "top secret" and "personal." They loaded dozens of boxes of paper files and some of the electronics into vehicles and took them away.
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