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U.S. Offers $25 Million for Hussein

Times Staff Writers

U.S. officials announced a $25-million reward Thursday for information leading to the capture of Saddam Hussein or for irrefutable proof of his death, acknowledging that the deposed dictator still haunts Iraq nearly three months after American troops first rolled into this capital city.

Amid mounting signs that resistance to U.S. forces is becoming more organized, a sniper killed a U.S. soldier in central Baghdad and Iraqi insurgents fired into an American army base about 60 miles north of the city, wounding 19 servicemen, a military spokeswoman said today. The assault on the base appeared to be one of the first uses of mortars against U.S. troops since the end of major combat.

The reward for Hussein, and a separate $15-million offer for information leading to the arrest of either of his two sons, comes as U.S. troops endure daily ambushes in central Iraq.

L. Paul Bremer III, the top U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, made the offer in an address broadcast to the Iraqi people, calling Hussein and his sons, Uday and Qusai, “among the most evil men the world has known.”

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“They may or may not still be alive,” Bremer said. “Until we know for sure, their names will continue to cast a shadow of fear over this country.”

The reward matches the size of the offer for the capture of Osama bin Laden, who eluded capture after the Sept. 11 attacks as U.S. troops entered Afghanistan to topple the Taliban government that sheltered leaders of the Al Qaeda terrorist network. Bin Laden remains a fugitive.

U.S. officials have said that uncertainty over Hussein’s fate encourages former members of his government and helps foster continued resistance to the American-led occupation.

“We believe it is important to do everything we can to determine his whereabouts, whether he is alive or dead, in order to assist in stabilizing the situation and letting the people of Baghdad be absolutely sure that he is not coming back,” Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told reporters in Washington.

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Task Force 20, a U.S. Special Forces unit, has scoured Iraq in the weeks since the war in search of Hussein and other top officials of his government.

On June 18, U.S. forces attacked a convoy of vehicles near the Syrian border, believing that it contained top officials of Hussein’s regime. Villagers on the Iraqi side of the border said the convoy belonged to livestock smugglers. A local woman, an infant and two smugglers were killed in the attack, the villagers said.

During the war, Hussein was the target of at least two airstrikes. After U.S. troops entered the city, American experts searched for his remains near a landmark Baghdad restaurant.

A U.S. intelligence official in Washington said Thursday that “there is still debate” within the intelligence community over whether Hussein survived those strikes. But a growing number of intelligence and military officials now believe that he is alive.

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“This guy is slinking around, each day hiding and running, some say in crude disguise, some say manifesting the effects of having been wounded,” Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) said Thursday after he and eight other lawmakers returned from a three-day trip to Iraq during which they met with top U.S. intelligence officials and military commanders. Warner is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The memory and myth of Hussein, alive or dead, continue to loom over Iraqis and the city where his portrait was displayed on countless buildings and street corners. He remains the subject of repeated reports of sightings, and of a constant stream of rumors regarding his whereabouts.

Perhaps the most outlandish rumor heard in Baghdad has Hussein living in the White House, as part of a Machiavellian American plot to steal Iraqi oil. Last month, a Baghdad newspaper reported that he had been spotted driving a taxi. Another had him living in a flophouse by the Tigris River.

In Baghdad’s Karada market, reaction to the offer of a $25-million reward was mixed.

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“Even if it were $25 billion, I would never turn him over to the American troops,” said Haider Abdul Rahim, a 28-year-old grocer. “First because he is an Iraqi, second because he is a Muslim, and third because he is an Arab.”

To hand Hussein over, Rahim said, would be to betray loyalty to all three. “Only a thief would do that,” he said.

Across the street, another merchant had an entirely different reaction. Asaad Nieemi said 14 members of his extended family had been executed by the ousted government. A onetime activist with Hussein’s Baath Party, Nieemi said he had participated in an assassination plot against the dictator.

“For me and for the Iraqi people, $25 million is meaningless,” said Nieemi, 65. If given the money, he wouldn’t accept it, he said, but he would gladly pay to be rid of Hussein. “Give us guns, so we can go and fight him and his followers.”

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Instead, U.S. and allied forces are doing all of the fighting against the remnants of the regime and other elements resisting the U.S.-led presence here.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of the Army’s V Corps and all ground forces in Iraq, said at a Baghdad news conference before the latest two incidents Thursday that 25 Americans had been killed in action and 171 wounded since May 1, when an end to major combat was declared.

The soldier who was killed by a sniper was a member of the 1st Armored Division. He was shot while sitting in a Bradley fighting vehicle, said spokeswoman Spc. Nicole Thompson. No identification was released pending notification of relatives.

The mortar attack took place in Balad, with “several explosions” inside a compound used by the 3rd Corps Support Command. The injured soldiers were evacuated to military hospitals, Thompson said.

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On Thursday, there were at least two other assaults in Baghdad and one in the western town of Ramadi. In addition, an anti-U.S. demonstration in Baqubah, northeast of Baghdad, turned violent.

The fighting resulted in at least 10 American injuries and the deaths of two Iraqis, according to the U.S. military and accounts from witnesses.

In one attack in central Baghdad, schoolchildren found themselves in the cross-fire.

A three-car Army convoy was driving down Haifa Street, one of the busiest in Baghdad, when an attacker popped up through sunroof of a white Toyota. The attacker fired a rocket-propelled grenade at an Army Humvee before the car sped away, said Fouad Hassan Alwan, 27, who was walking nearby.

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The shrapnel and concussion of the explosion injured three soldiers, while others in their convoy opened fire on the escaping vehicle racing down the street, injuring more passersby.

About 10 Iraqi people were wounded, including three children who were taken to the nearby Karama Hospital. One Iraqi was dead at the scene. People later torched the disabled Humvee but also criticized the attackers, witnesses said.

“The people who are doing these attacks are the same ones who were clapping before for Saddam Hussein,” said Hassan Jasim, 38, standing over his 6-year-old daughter, who was in the hospital with a gaping wound to her back. His 12-year-old son was in surgery with severe leg injuries.

“If they were honorable men, they should have fought the Americans during the war, not now where our children are playing,” he said.

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Alwan’s brother Sajaad, 21, said he heard the explosion and then fell wounded when the Americans opened fire. Speaking from a hospital bed, a bullet still in his thigh, he accused the Americans of shooting “at random” and said the U.S. presence in Iraq is no longer welcome.

“The Americans provoke us,” he complained. “We are civilians, and they always point guns at us. They put their laser sights on us.”

In Ramadi, 60 miles west of Baghdad, two Humvees struck an explosive device, wounding six soldiers, said Sgt. Patrick Compton, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad quoted by Associated Press. And in a separate ambush before dawn Thursday, a sniper fired on a patrol in the northwest Baghdad neighborhood of Kadhimiya, wounding a soldier from the Army’s 1st Armored Division, according to a statement by the U.S. military.

Soldiers who fired back killed the man and wounded a 6-year-old boy who was with him, the statement said, and the soldier and the child were both evacuated to a military hospital.

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Although there were no new reports of sabotage on Iraq’s electrical grid, United Nations officials said Thursday that repeated attacks on power lines and power stations have reduced power by 40% in Baghdad.

Several senators who participated in the trip to Iraq this week expressed concerns.

“There is insurgent action that is directed at our troops in a very calculated, very determined way,” said Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), a former Army Ranger and a member of the Armed Services Committee. He also cited concern that various groups now targeting Americans independently “will somehow find common cause against us.”

Sen. John D. “Jay” Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) said U.S. military officials in Iraq had found fliers diagraming body armor worn by U.S. troops and telling Iraqi insurgents where to aim their weapons to avoid that armor.

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Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, suggested that U.S. teams have uncovered new evidence of Iraq’s alleged banned weapons programs. “There is going to be breaking, positive news on that front in the very near term,” Roberts said. He emphasized, however, that he was referring to “Saddam’s weapons program -- not the finished product, but the program.” He declined to elaborate.

White House officials have adopted similar language in recent weeks, reflecting growing doubt that U.S. teams will find biological or chemical agents in weaponized form. Other lawmakers sounded more skeptical.

“Nothing I saw on this trip changed my view” that prewar claims about Iraq’s banned weapons were exaggerated, said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

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Times staff writers Terry McDermott in Baghdad and Greg Miller in Washington contributed to this report.


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