U.S. soldiers captured two more of Saddam Hussein’s former bodyguards here Tuesday as a military official said the former Iraqi president was moving every few hours to evade his pursuers.
An Arab satellite television station, meanwhile, played another audiotape purported to carry the voice of Hussein. The man speaking acknowledges the deaths last week of Uday and Qusai Hussein, the deposed leader’s sons, and says he would willingly sacrifice “100 children” to the resistance if he had them.
“Thank God for what he destined for us, and honored us with their martyrdom for his sake,” the speaker says on the tape, which was broadcast by Dubai-based Al Arabiya television. The station said it received the tape Tuesday. It was the second recording released in a week purportedly of Hussein.
The raids that netted the bodyguards were the latest in a series of sweeps aimed at rounding up Hussein’s former security staff here in his home region, where many guards were recruited and apparently returned after the war.
Commanders with the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division, operating out of opulent marble-lined palaces that the ousted leader had built atop this ancient city on the Tigris River, hope that by gathering Hussein’s security staff they can glean information about his whereabouts and security routine.
The tactic is key to the U.S.-led coalition’s effort to stabilize postwar Iraq because Hussein continues to at least inspire if not lead an intensifying guerrilla resistance movement that has killed about one American soldier each day, on average, in the past two weeks.
The interrogations and other intelligence are apparently paying off. Hussein’s pursuers say they have information on his recent movements, if not his precise whereabouts.
“We know he’s on the run,” said Maj. Josslyn Aberle, a spokeswoman for the 4th Infantry Division. “We know he’s not staying in any one place more than a few hours at a time -- probably four hours at a time.”
Military officials would not say whether the recent tip on Hussein came from electronic eavesdropping, visual surveillance or Iraqis seeking a $25-million reward for his capture or death. But several officials have said recently that the number of “human intelligence” reports has increased significantly in recent days and that the quality of those reports has been proved in raids that net their target subjects.
At the Pentagon, U.S. officials said the decision whether to take Hussein dead or alive may be up to commanders on the ground -- and to the former Iraqi leader.
“It is a complex matter,” said Lt. Gen. Norton Schwartz, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “It has to do with the character of the target. It has to do with the circumstances. It has to do with the kind of defensive measures taken. And given that array of considerations, the commander on the ground makes a decision on whether it is capture or kill.”
Lawrence Di Rita, special assistant to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, said he was unaware of any discussions between Rumsfeld and U.S. commanders in Iraq over whether the Bush administration would prefer that Hussein be taken alive. If he is captured, he could be put on trial or interrogated about any allegedly hidden weapons of mass destruction.
“The decisions made by the individual being pursued will prevail in most cases if he doesn’t wish to be taken alive,” Di Rita said. “In many cases it’s difficult to take them alive.”
The CIA, meanwhile, was analyzing the purported Hussein tape, comparing it with known samples of Hussein’s voice. One agency official said final results of the analysis would be available today.
The official, who requested anonymity, said the agency had tentatively concluded that Hussein’s voice is on four tapes released to Arab news outlets since U.S. troops captured Baghdad in April. “Nothing is 100% certain, but they were all probably or most probably him,” the official said of the other tapes. “They’re all bad-quality audio, so you can’t know with absolute certainty. But the previous ones, we believe to a moderate degree [of certainty], were Saddam.”
The capture of the two bodyguards Tuesday followed a night in which soldiers took 29 detainees in 230 patrols and sweeps. Aberle, the 4th Infantry spokeswoman, did not name the bodyguards. Associated Press reported that they were Adnan Abdullah Abid Musslit, identified as a longtime Hussein bodyguard, and Daher Ziana, the former head of security in Tikrit. A third figure from the former regime, identified as Rafa Idham Ibrahim Hassan, a leader of the Fedayeen Saddam militia, also was taken, AP said.
Musslit reportedly struggled with the soldiers and was bleeding from a cut to his forehead as he was led from the house where he was seized in the early morning.
The bodyguards will be interrogated but are not likely to face charges because, Aberle said, “being Saddam’s bodyguard is not a crime.”
The raids by soldiers of the 4th Infantry’s 1st Brigade appear to be feeding on themselves, with captured guards leading troops to their confederates, although military officials would say little about what was being divulged.
Most of the more than half a dozen security officers from the Hussein government taken into custody over the past week are not believed to have actively served as bodyguards since Hussein fled amid the U.S. siege of Baghdad.
On Sunday, troops from the 4th Infantry said they missed grabbing Hussein’s security advisor -- and possibly the former Iraqi president himself -- by 24 hours in a raid in Tikrit. If intelligence reports about his frequent movements are correct, Hussein would have moved six times during that period.
Nevertheless, Aberle said, the search has maintained its intensity and could produce the toppled leader any day.
“I believe it’s just a matter of time before we get Saddam,” she said. “When people get tired, they make mistakes.”
Tikrit is a locus of activity largely because Hussein’s hometown is located on its outskirts. Many local tribal officials are related to the former leader, and he drew his most loyal aides and guards from the region. It remains a bastion of support for the former government.
Hendren reported from Tikrit and Schrader from Washington. Times staff writer Bob Drogin in Washington contributed to this report.