The New York Times newspaper reported this week that U.S. intelligence analysts believe Saddam Hussein is still alive and hiding somewhere in Iraq. The White House says it simply doesn't know, but U.S. forces on the ground in Iraq are intensifying their search for the deposed Iraqi leader, his two sons and their close associates. The fate and whereabouts of Saddam Hussein is very much on the minds of many Iraqis.
Pictures of Saddam once adorned every office and public building, and his image once looked down from huge murals along streets and highways. They are now gone, or have been defaced or painted over. Statues of him have been pulled down. But the once omnipresent Saddam Hussein is still very much on the minds of Iraqis.
There were reports Saddam and possibly his two sons had been killed in targeted missile attacks during the war. But no trace of them has ever been found. Then, there were rumors that he had escaped to neighboring Syria. Now, The New York Times has quoted intelligence analysts as saying recent information picked up from communications among some of his supporters indicates the ousted Iraqi leader may well be alive and hiding inside the country.
Many Iraqis believe he is still around. Thirty-two-year-old Jafaar, who prefers to give only his first name, sells fruits and vegetables by the roadside in Baghdad.
"Yes, of course he's still alive," he said. "I think he's alive in Baghdad - still in Baghdad. He's alive in Baghdad, I'm sure."
The thought of Saddam Hussein still in the country makes Jafaar and many Iraqis nervous. They fear he might somehow try to regain power with his Baath party stalwarts. And then, says Jafaar, he would surely take his revenge upon the Iraqi people.
At a news conference in Baghdad earlier this week, the top U.S. civil administrator for Iraq, Ambassador Paul Bremer, said he is aware of these misgivings.
"The fact that we have not been able to prove conclusively that he's dead, or capture him alive, is an intimidating factor to some people in this country," he said. "It intimidates people into saying we don't want to cooperate, because we think the Baathists may come back."
U.S. military officials in Baghdad blame the recent upsurge in attacks against American forces and Iraqis cooperating with them on remaining Saddam loyalists. The military has stepped up operations to root out these armed elements. Officials hope that the capture this week of Saddam's personal secretary and bodyguard, Abid Hamid Mahmoud, might lead them to the ousted Iraqi leader.