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Clues emerge to final hours of Saddam rule

Dubai, April 17 (Reuters): Two Arab-language newspapers placed Saddam Hussein and his son Qusay in Baghdad last week on the day US tanks drove to the heart of the capital and Iraqis toppled a massive statue, symbolically ending his 24-year rule.

Al-Jazeera today showed what was thought to be Saddam’s hastily-abandoned last abode in Baghdad. A half-filled glass of water and a stained cup stood on a desk next to crudely sketched military plans in an office where Jazeera said the Iraqi leader taped messages entreating his people to fight US invaders. A suitcase was left next to an unmade bed.

But despite the best efforts of US and British intelligence services, US special forces, thousands of US troops and of international media, there was no sign of the ousted Iraqi leader. White House chief of staff Andrew Card said in an online discussion he believed Saddam was dead. But a survey of 7,122 people in Gulf News today showed a majority believed he was alive, hiding outside Iraq.

US officials have stressed that while they launched the war to end Saddam’s rule the success of their military campaign does not hinge on his fate. “If we don’t find every one of them, but we can account that the regime is not in place, then we have succeeded and we believe we have succeeded,” Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks told journalists at US Central Command in Qatar.

Still Washington has put a price on Saddam’s head and made him the Ace of Spades in a pack of cards depicting most-wanted Iraqis. And today, US Central Command announced the capture of Saddam’s half-brother Barzan, a former head of Iraqi intelligence.

For some of the citizens who lived under his iron rule, Saddam remains a threat as long as he is at large. Others are following the denouement of a real-life thriller. “It is like a film. They want to see the end,” said one man who lived in the Mansur district Americans bombed in an attempt to kill Saddam.

Clues emerged today concerning the elusive leader’s movements in the dramatic days when US troops pressed toward Baghdad and ultimately took control of the battered city.

London-based al-Hayat and Asharq al-Awsat newspapers quoted witnesses as saying Saddam appeared near the Azamia mosque in northern Baghdad on April 9 the day Iraqis, with the help of US tanks, pulled down a massive statue of Saddam and dragged its decapitated head through the streets.

That corroborated a report from a man who described himself as a former Iraqi army officer. He said he saw Saddam at about that time outside a mosque in the Aadhamiya district of north Baghdad.

Al-Hayat quoted witnesses as saying Saddam arrived at around noon in a convoy of three cars, accompanied by his younger son Qusay and his body guard, Al Amin Abd Hamed Hamoud. Dressed in military fatigues, Saddam stood on top of one of the cars and delivered a half-hour speech telling the gathering: “I am fighting alongside you in the trenches,” Hayat quoted one witness as saying.

Witnesses told Hayat the Iraqi leader and his entourage departed about 12 hours before a US air raid on the area which they said destroyed part of a graveyard behind the mosque.

Jazeera today showed a relatively modest Baghdad home where Saddam, who had built himself sumptuous palaces, was said to have spent the last days of his rule. A sitting room ringed with yellow-and-green striped sofas was where Jazeera said Saddam held his last meetings with the Revolutionary Council and senior aides.

An adjacent room, sparsely furnished with a conference table covered in white fabric and surrounded by white plastic chairs, appeared to be the room where Saddam was shown in a videotape meeting with his sons and advisers in the days after the war began.

Jazeera said the room was also where Saddam’s last speech was recorded.

An office seemed to be the one where Saddam, looking tired and wearing large glasses, filmed a statement aired on March 20, three hours after being targeted by the US air raids that opened the war.

An Iraqi flag stood in the small office, an Iraqi eagle symbol hung on drawn blue curtains. A presidential stamp on an ink pad rested on a sturdy desk near a piece of white paper that read in Arabic: “The President orders the Revolutionary Council...” In the bedroom, a uniform with a shoulder insignia that Jazeera said indicated the highest rank in the Iraqi military hung on a clothes tree. In the bathroom was a box of Cartier cologne.

The last occupant of the house also left the Quran opened at al-Hijr.

The first lines read: “The day will surely come when the unbelievers will wish that they were Muslims. Let them feast and make merry; and let their hopes beguile them. They shall know the truth.”

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