U.S. officials say they captured former Iraqi spy chief Farouk Hijazi Friday, the latest in a series of former officials from the Saddam Hussein regime taken into custody in recent days. As for Saddam himself, President Bush says there is some evidence he is dead.
U.S. officials say Farouk Hijazi was detained by U.S. troops near Iraq's border with Syria. They describe him as a major catch, even though he is not included in the list of 55 top officials wanted from the Saddam regime.
Farouk Hijazi was director of external operations for Iraq's intelligence service in the 1990s, when the agency plotted to kill former President George Bush during a visit to Kuwait. U.S. officials also say he met with Osama bin Laden during a visit to Afghanistan in 1998.
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says Iraqis are increasingly willing to cooperate with coalition troops in tracking down wanted officials from the Saddam era. "In at least half the cases, it is because somebody points them out, and says, 'Look, down the street, there is somebody you ought to want to talk to.' And that is a very encouraging thing," he said.
U.S. officials hope to learn more about other Saddam loyalists from former Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, who surrendered to U.S. forces in Baghdad Thursday.
Mr. Aziz was not considered an insider in the Saddam regime, but he was one of its most public and loyal defenders, both during the 1991 Persian Gulf War and right up until the time he gave this news conference, as coalition forces invaded Iraq last month. "We were born in Iraq, and we will die in Iraq," Mr. Aziz said.
A former director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, James Woolsey, told CBS television that Tariq Aziz could have information useful to coalition forces.
"He was sort of one of Saddam's chief poodles," he said. " I don't think he ever had a huge amount of decision-making authority inside the government. But he is an important figure, and he may well know something about both the policy with respect to how they deal with weapons of mass destruction, and he may know something with respect to Saddam's location, and this is all certainly possible."
Regarding Saddam Hussein, President Bush has told a U.S. television network that there is some evidence to suggest the Iraqi leader is dead, perhaps killed in an airstrike in one of his command bunkers on the opening night of the war.
Mr. Bush told NBC's Tom Brokaw that an Iraqi informant told U.S. intelligence officials that Saddam may have been killed or seriously wounded in that initial attack.
BUSH: "He felt like we got Saddam."
BROKAW: "He did?"
BUSH: "He felt like that, yes."
As for the coalition's failure so far to confirm the existence of weapons of mass destruction inside Iraq, the president says there is a lot more searching to be done.
"Time and investigation will prove a couple of points," said Mr. Bush. "One, that he did have terrorist connections. And secondly, we also know that there are hundreds and hundreds of sites available for hiding the weapons, and that we have only looked at about 90 of those sites, so far."
The president said in the interview that "the foundation for democracy is now being laid" in Iraq, and said he hopes neighboring Iran will not meddle in Iraqi politics.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was even more blunt on Iran in an interview with the Associated Press. Asked if the United States would permit the formation of an Iranian-style theocracy in Iraq, Mr. Rumsfeld replied simply: "That isn't going to happen."
Also Friday, a senior Sunni Muslim cleric in Baghdad urged Muslims to reject the American presence in Iraq. Sheikh Moayyad Ibrahim al-Aadhami told worshippers to say 'no' to America and 'no' to occupation. Unlike previous days, however, there were no signs of any major anti-U.S. protests in the Iraqi capital.